Headed into Week 4 of the NFL season, the national conversation is all wrong. Our football discourse is out of sorts and off course.
We should be talking about major surprises like the 3-0 Arizona Cardinals and the 0-3 New Orleans Saints. We should be discussing amazing games like Sunday's Lions-Titans overtime thriller. We should be relishing outstanding performances such as Kansas City's Jamaal Charles rushing for 233 yards one week after the Giants' Eli Manning passed for 510 yards.
But there's only one topic on everyone's mind, and it has nothing to do with individual teams, players or games. It's a subject that can't be avoided, no matter where you are or which way you turn. It's the NFL's idiotic decision to inflict replacement officials on us and defile its own product.
The only thing more sickening than continuing to talk about them is continuing to watch them.
If the league doesn't realize this is a crisis situation, it's even dumber than we thought in letting the situation get this far. Monday night's game brought us to a breaking point.
On the decisive, game-ending, Hail Mary from Seattle's Russell Wilson, officials looked at each other and raised their arms simultaneously. But they broke off into different motions. One kept extending his to arms to signal a touchdown, while the other waved his arms overhead to signal an interception.
The call on the field? Ha! There were two!
In real time, and after watching dozens of replays, I thought Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings clearly had possession of the ball, pinned to his chest. Seattle receiver Golden Tate had his hands on the ball, but the only thing pinned to his chest was Jennings. (Tate's blatant shove of cornerback Sam Shields was comical, but pass interference rarely is called during end zone scrums on the last play.)
When referee Wayne Elliott ruled — after further review — that the touchdown stood, my stomach turned as I turned off the TV.
In the most dramatic fashion imaginable, a game finally was decided on an incorrect call by replacement refs. Their mistakes, missteps and mess-ups had indirectly contributed to outcomes during the first three weeks. But here we have an undeniable, indisputable link to the final score of an NFL contest.
The league issued a statement Tuesday, supporting the decision not to overturn the touchdown and pointing out the missed pass interference that would've sealed a Green Bay victory. I had a problem with the part that said "the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball."
It obviously was a split decision, but the official who was incorrect also was more aggressive.
For the record, the exact same scenario could have transpired with regular refs on the field. The same is true of other questionable calls in Monday night's game and over the first three weeks. It's not as if controversial rulings/nonrulings were nonexistent before the replacements hit the scene.
But here's what commissioner Roger Goodell fails to understand: The NFL is bleeding out, losing more integrity and credibility each week. The league has become a joke, but it's no laughing matter.
The situation would be different with veteran officials blowing the whistles and throwing the flags. We might rail on them for a day or two, but we'd move on, as usual. Officiating wouldn't remain the all-consuming, overbearing and never-ending topic of discussion, drowning out every other NFL conversation.
Goodell's arrogance is showing in his attempts to ignore the diatribes. Issuing a bevy of fines doesn't help, either. Even if coaches and players stopped defying the edict against criticizing officials, the outcry from fans and media would remain deafening.
Arguing that the issue is overblown won't lower the volume, unless Goodell pokes out our eyes as well.
It's unbelievable that a multibillion-dollar organization as sharp and sophisticated as the image-conscious NFL is allowing its brand be shredded in the court of public opinion. The league might not view replacements as a problem, but that view is out-of-touch with perception, which can be more damaging than reality.
Surely this latest uproar will snap the NFL to its collective senses. No way this torrent of negativity is worth the few dollars being squabbled over with the officials' union. When parties as disparate as lawmakers and the Lingerie League are piling on, the next step should be obvious: Get back to the negotiating table and reach a deal, now.
That's the only way to end the mockery and change the subject.
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