It’s official: NFL has problem with replacement refs

Tracee Hamilton
September 17, 2012

Last week I fainted with damn praise, declaring the 2012 Washington Redskins “watchable.”

Despite Sunday’s 31-28 loss to the St. Louis Rams, I stand by that: The Redskins are still watchable, warts and all — though they still have more warts than an over-the-top Halloween witch mask.

But oh, the officiating. The officiating is not watchable. What happened Sunday in St. Louis was a travesty, from beginning to end. The league and the union must put aside their differences, get back in a room and hammer something out, because — and I can’t believe I’m writing these words — the integrity of the game is at stake.

Well, maybe “integrity” is a strong word. “Image” is probably better. With these weekly gaffes and blunders, the league’s image is taking a real hit — an illegal hit, shoulder to the chin, the kind that makes your head snap back as your body flops to the turf. Sort of like the hit Fred Davis took Sunday — with no penalty called.

That was the most egregious of the officiating mistakes in the game, and that’s the one that matters most. It was clearly an illegal hit, the kind the league said it would end, the kind any official worth his stripes would have called. Instead, while the NFL and the union squabble, the health and safety of their players are in jeopardy. (Note to the NFL and the union: Without the players, you’re a bunch of guys in suits. It behooves you to protect them.)

Officiating didn’t cost the Redskins the game — even the worst replacement ref had to flag Josh Morgan for his bonehead move — and officiating didn’t give the Rams the game. Both teams were hurt by calls, all afternoon. There came a time when it appeared Mike Shanahan was actually in charge of the game, so much rule book instructing was he doing from the sideline. He had to, to protect his interests, but whether or not you like him, you must admit that’s not his job.

The Rams came out chippy, for whatever reason. Oh, yes, because they lost their opener in the final eight seconds a week ago. That’s probably one reason. They were screaming into Robert Griffin III’s face, and on an early play, after Griffin was down, one of the Rams took the opportunity to slam his head into the ground. Rookie hazing, perhaps, but it set the tone. Soon the teams were skirmishing after almost every play. They skirmished during a booth review, for heaven’s sake.

In the second half, some of that was curtailed, which means both coaches must have talked to their respective teams at halftime about not drawing stupid penalties. But it should have been stopped early in the game, by the officials, and it could have been with the correct use of a yellow piece of cloth. A few penalties in those situations on both sides usually calm the waters. Instead, they let it get completely out of control.

Then the game got tight, and both teams were tired and frustrated with each other. Something was bound to happen. And it did.

Stop me if you’re heard this before, but more players need to take their cues from London Fletcher. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Rams driving, he took a flagrant cheap shot after a play was blown dead, basically being pounced on and rolled onto his head. He was angry when he got up, and he mentioned his anger to the officials, who of course had missed the whole thing. Then on the next play, he punched the ball out of Daryl Richardson’s hand, DeAngelo Hall recovered, and the Redskins had new life.

The Redskins, of course, weren’t the only team victimized by bad calls. Early in the game the Rams had what might have been a touchdown, but the call wasn’t challenged by Jeff Fisher. There were some bad ball spots, some bad late hit calls. And there was the fiasco at the goal line in the second quarter when Steven Jackson failed to score — except replays showed he had gotten the ball across the line on one play. But he spiked the ball and drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, the Rams were forced to settle for a field goal and Jackson was forced to play spectator for the rest of the afternoon.

That was also the series in which Fisher did challenge a call when he shouldn’t have, which should have drawn a 15-yard penalty. It didn’t, despite Shanahan’s best efforts to school the refs, as his face gradually began to resemble the color of his shirt.

The Redskins are competitive this season, but they probably would have lost Sunday no matter who was officiating. Who knows? But if it remains at this level, the replacement officiating is going to cost teams games, illegal hits are going to go unchecked, and chippy games such as Sunday’s will become the norm. I’d just like to watch some football, without all the foolishness. And soon.

For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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