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“I hate to say it,” Carolina’s Steve Smith said, “but if you are going to have these refs in a Super Bowl it’s going to cost somebody a game.

“I’ll probably get in trouble for this, but you have to have competent people,” he said. “And if you’re incompetent, get them out of there.”

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford didn’t mince words about the regular refs _ “We need them back.”

“I hope it happens soon,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s fair to the fans, I don’t think it’s fair to us as players to go out there and have to deal with that week in and week out. I really hope that they’re as close as they say they are.”

Despite several field fiascos _ like Dallas’ Kevin Ogletree getting tripped in the end zone by an official’s thrown cap _ not everyone is necessarily pointing fingers at the replacements.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be blaming the refs, but blaming the league, the owners, I don’t know who it is,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “Maybe it’s not just the officials. We’re putting them in tough situations and it can’t be easy.”

Even Cheek, the NFL field judge, said the replacement refs are in a difficult position _ though he noted the end-of-game call in Seattle, at least in his in eyes, should have been easy to get right.

“It’s like expecting a high schooler to keep pace with Ray Lewis,” Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said. “It’s not fair to expect them to do that. I think you saw that through no real fault or lack of effort, they were just put in a position where they couldn’t really succeed.”

Even if a deal is at hand, it was still uncertain how it would affect the weekend’s games. Week 4 opens Thursday night with the Cleveland Browns at the Ravens.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said he thought it might take a while before things return to normal, even with the regular refs.

“It’s going to be hard for officials to come back since not doing a game since last December, a lot of them, and all of a sudden they’re doing a game. I think it’s going to be a tough transition either way. You want things to get settled. You want the best people to be out there, the guys who’ve been doing it a lot of years.”

Bills coach Chan Gailey had a simple solution for all the recent angst.

“The biggest thing, if you get a big enough lead, it won’t come down to a call,” he said. “Go get big leads and it won’t be an issue.”

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AP Sports Writers Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis, Stephen Hawkins in Dallas, Will Graves in Pittsburgh, Larry Lage in Detroit, Joe Kay in Cincinnati, Dennis Waszak Jr. in Florham Park, N.J., Michael Marot in Indianapolis, Andrew Seligman in Chicago, Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia and John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y., and R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report.

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