Ben Roethlisberger questions an intentional grounding call by replacement referee Jerry Frump (Justin K. Aller / Getty Images)

Refs seemed to struggle to maintain control like so many substitute teachers and one ref was pulled from the New Orleans Saints’ game because he is a Saints fan. From Ray Lewis and Joe Flacco to Tony Dungy to Mike Pereira to the NFL warning coaches about bullying refs, it’s clear that this situation is getting ugly.

“The time is now,” Lewis said (via after the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. “How much longer are we gonna keep going through this whole process? I don’t have the answer, I just know across the league teams and the league are being affected by it. It’s not just this game, it’s all across the league. And so if they want the league to have the same reputation it’s always had, they’ll address the problem. Get the regular referees in here and let the games play themselves out. We already have controversy enough with the regular refs calling the plays.”

Flacco admitted that he might sound “like a baby” for criticizing officials after the Ravens’ loss, but he pointed out something that was happening all across the league: players are trying to get away with as much as possible (who can blame ’em?) and no one is stopping them.

“The NFL and everybody always talks about the integrity of the game and things like that. I think this is kind of along those lines. Not to say that these guys are doing a bad job but the fact that we don’t have the normal guys out there is pretty crazy,” he said (via CSN Baltimore).

“I don’t know if there’s a newfound appreciation of regular refs or anything like that, but those [locked-out] guys have been doing it for a long time and they put a lot of time and hard work into going out there and doing this. ... It’s not an easy thing to be down there and be officiating games that are going full speed at this level. ... It’s tough to get thrown right in there and be perfect.”

Flacco pointed specifically to downfield coverage, which seems to be an ad­ven­ture for the replacements. “I definitely think there’s things that are downfield that sometimes are getting called and sometimes are not. Just like [Ravens Coach] John [Harbaugh] said, we don’t really know when they’re getting called and when they’re not.”

Dungy and Rodney Harrison echoed that on “Sunday Night Football.”

“One area where they are struggling is downfield contact,” Dungy said. “There’s no illegal contact penalty in college so they’re not looking for it. A lot of wrestling.”

Players are going to take any edge they can get. “This is why Flacco and other quarterbacks around the league are frustrated,” Rodney Harrison said. “…If I’m a defensive back and they’re not calling it, I’m going to do it the entire day.”

It’s pretty embarrassing that a Saints fan nearly worked New Orleans’ game. Did the league not check these people out, is it indulging in wishful vetting or do owners just not care? The ref, Peter King reports, is scheduled to work another NFL game Week 3.

“Last week, I thought the replacement officials were adequate,” King wrote in Monday Morning Quarterback. “Watching football Sunday, I felt like a passenger in a car going 20 miles an hour too fast on a mountain road with hairpin turns; we weren't going to die, but it was going to be a dicey ride.”

Fox’s Pereira, the NFL’s former head of officials, was a little more direct:

I’m officially over it. The regular refs need to get back on the field. Enough is enough.

— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) September 16, 2012

The Post’s Tom Boswell, in a chat today:

“As I tweeted yesterday, the fake refs are a joke. They're causing huge damage to the NFL product, plus brawls, long games, boring arguments. This is classic NFL arrogance: We can do anything we want and the whole world will still watch our product, so you refs can just fold up your tent and do as we say. Not working, is it? In another month, the NFL may be on its knees begging the Real Refs back.

“I've ‘only’ watched about six NFL games so far this year. Every one has been the same: seriously damaged by the refs. The Eagles-Ravens games was a complete ref-induced mess from the [first quarter] on. No control of players, dirty play, bad calls, confused on rules, bad spots, can't even get the numbers of players who committed penalties correct. 

“Awful. Players have little recourse other than offering their opinions. It isn’t as if they can strike in solidarity; the collective bargaining agreement prevents that.”

“The game is played the way the game is played, but there’s some serious calls the refs missed,” Lewis said.  “And that’s just the way it is, man, all around the league. And that, for our league to be what it is, we have to correct that. Because these games are critical. And guys are giving everything they got all across the league, but there are calls that the regular refs, if they were here, we know the way calls would be made.

“For the conversations to be had the way they had on the sidelines saying, ‘If the real refs were here, that would have been made,’  that shouldn’t happen. That shouldn’t be the case around the league, but it is. And we have to deal with it.”

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