- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco laughed that, on one call Sunday, an NFL replacement official threw a blue beanie instead of a flag. Washington Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander scoffed at a brutal personal foul penalty on teammate London Fletcher and wondered how guys could tackle each other on kickoffs and not get penalized.

Welcome to life during the lockout of the league’s regular officials, as NFL players and fans are quickly realizing you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

“In my nine years of playing in this league and even in college and all that, I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life,” Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “I guess it is a testament to how well those other guys worked.”

Officiating blunders are prevalent through the first two weeks of the regular season, bringing the league’s competitive credibility into question.

But it’s not just about replacement officials missing calls. As the Redskins and St. Louis Rams discovered Sunday, these refs often are unable to even keep control of a game.

“It’s rookies. They don’t have any clout in the NFL. They’re trying to figure out everything going on,” Alexander said. “You only can get away with so much or you have a certain attitude because you’re trying to figure out everything else going on: ‘Am I making the right calls? Am I standing in the right place? Are my eyes right?’

“Before you even start worrying about trying to control or show that you need the same respect as somebody who’s been doing it for 15 years.”

When prominent players such as Flacco and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis call out the replacement officials, it’s a public relations hit for the NFL. But it doesn’t even take that for fans to wonder why there isn’t a deal with the officials’ association.

Just watch one game, and the comedy of errors is obvious. On Monday, officials botched a recovered fumble and their ability to count to 12 men on the field was challenged. Fletcher’s hit on Rams receiver Danny Amendola that drew a 15-yard penalty was clearly in bounds, and St. Louis was flagged when Steven Jackson spiked the ball after he thought he had scored a touchdown when officials ruled he was down at the 1.

Players see rampant mistakes and just want to see the real officials work out an agreement and get back on the field.

“I don’t know what they’re arguing about, but I’ve got a couple mil on it. So let’s try to make it work,” Hall said jokingly. “I’m sure this locker room can pile up some cash to try to, you know, help the cause out.”

One replacement official was taken off the New Orleans-Carolina game Sunday when the league discovered he was a Saints fan. Another reportedly told Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy he needed him for fantasy football.

It has become embarrassing enough that fans might cheer regular officials when they return. Players and coaches will be thankful, too, because game conditions have become more dangerous.

“I’ve never been in a situation where you feel that there is going to be an explosion on the field,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said of Sunday’s game. “You’re hoping that doesn’t happen. It was very close to losing control.”

Alexander knew early on that things would spiral out of control when replacement officials didn’t throw flags to curb cheap shots and chippy play.

“Some of that stuff the other refs don’t have tolerance for,” he said. “They just boom [throw a flag] and as soon as you start throwing 15-yard penalties on people, I think that gets guys to kind of calm down a little bit.”

And as much as fans justifiably complain about officials getting calls wrong, this is as much a concern about player safety.

“If they allow people to continue to take cheap shots like that, yeah. It’s going to be an issue,” Alexander said. “I know a couple times guys could’ve got hurt if they weren’t aware or didn’t see the guy coming in on him late.”

Already taking a reputation hit for the referee situation, the last thing the NFL needs is for a star to suffer an injury because replacements cannot keep players under control.

Of course, there’s the danger that replacement officials start throwing too many flags and making games even more unwatchable and longer than they have been. But the far bigger worry is lack of proper enforcement.

And it almost certainly will get worse. Hall likened it to a basketball game when players know what kind of day it will be based on what fouls are called. If a lot of calls go unpenalized, players will try to get away with more.

“That’s what people are going to do. That’s what coaches are going to do,” Alexander said. “You’re going to come up with schemes, come up with techniques or a mentality and push the envelope as far as the refs allow you to do. And until they call it, why wouldn’t you do it if it’s going to give you an advantage to win games.”

At that point, everybody loses.