A week ago, the 49ers and Packers got together for a game that saw a variety of replacement ref miscues. The most blatant mistake came on an illegal block that sprung Randall Cobb for a punt return touchdown. The more subtle mistakes were the allowance of quite a bit of physicality between cornerbacks and wide receivers up and down the field. I like having officials swallow their whistles as much as the next guy, but inconsistency on pass interference calls drives me crazy.
The NFL has claimed that replacement refs are improving, but in fact, Week 2 might have seen them regress. The officials are making some bad mistakes, but one could argue the bigger problem now is players seeing what they can get away with when the refs are not paying close attention. Games like the Ravens-Eagles game saw numerous instances of players coming to blows. Normally the officials get in between and break things up, but when it is happening all over the field, there are only so many officials able to get in the mix.
I'm not a huge Deadspin fan, but they have provided some valuable pointed critiques of the league, with their latest coming earlier this morning:
The only problem is that players and coaches spent that week figuring out the refs' vulnerabilities, and as a result Week 2 was about teams seeing what they could get away with when the refs weren't looking. Turns out, you can get away with a lot! There were missed roughing calls all over the place, including plenty of those naughty helmet-to-helmet hits that angry up the Ginger Hammer's blood. There were numerous scuffles after the whistle was blown.
The 49ers win over the Lions featured numerous instances of bad calls, missed calls and dangerous plays. From a player safety angle, the play that riled me up the most was a fairly brutal hit on Alex Smith by Lions safety John Wendling. The GIF isn't great within the post, so head to this separate link.
Smith gave up his body in his slide. I can understand a player landing on another player at the end of a play like this. This should likely still be a penalty under NFL rules, but even still, it is not the end of the world when a player has to fall on another player. The problem is in the forearm to the head that cut Alex Smith's nose. Wendling led with his forearm and got a shot in on Smith that should have been a personal foul.
It is plays like these that cause the most concern in my mind. When player safety is put in greater jeopardy on a regular basis, I don't see how anybody can justify the lockout any longer. The parties involved do not seem to not care about any of our concerns at this point. I say the parties involved because it takes two to tango in this kind of situation.
While the NFL is talking about the salaries and whatnot, the only issue that really seems to stand in the way of an agreement is benefits. The refs currently have a pension and the league wants to convert them to a 401(k)-style of retirement plan. They have done that with their full-time employees and do not want to give a pension to part-time employees like referees.
I am not here to discuss the pros and cons of the two sides arguments. This is not a political debate about pensions and 401(k)'s, or the battles between labor and management. This is about the NFL and NFLRA getting their acts together and getting the real officials on the field. As Drew Magary said in his Deadspin post, even though the real refs do get calls wrong, they are there are much for keeping some measure of control on the field that goes beyond throwing flags.
This situation is bad now, but it could get much worse if it is not resolved. The integrity of the game is at stake, and I do not believe that is an exaggeration. The replacement refs are not improving and the players know this. A friend of mine made a good point when he said, "It's like a court where all the lawyers kinda suck: nobody has a disadvantage coming in, but is justice really done." Justice is not being served in the NFL and something needs to be done.