- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2012

ST. LOUIS | Late in the fourth quarter Sunday, a disgusted chant rippled through Edward Jones Dome.

For a moment, the tense, three-point game was forgotten. Instead, the half-full dome’s vitriol cascaded on eight men in black and white uniforms.

“Referees suck! Referees suck!”

This wasn’t ordinary Sunday griping. The NFL’s regular referees have been locked out since June after their collective bargaining agreement expired and, in their place, crews of inexperienced replacement referees have faced mounting criticism.

That devolved into 60 out-of-control minutes of football that, at times, resembled professional wrestling more than the NFL, as the St. Louis Rams edged the Washington Redskins 31-28.

More than a dozen scuffles and undisguised punches followed plays. Calls — and non-calls — baffled players, coaches and supporters of both teams. One instant replay review, interrupted by yet another fight, took seven minutes to process. Players repeatedly jawed with referees and lost composure. Even a mundane kickoff turned touchback led to Redskins returner Brandon Banks taking a swing at one of the Rams.

In the first half, authority slipped from the referees and toward on-field anarchy in a game that looked little like a mid-September meeting between two teams with nothing approaching a rivalry.

“They were doing things out there that they should have called,” fullback Darrel Young said. “It was blatant. Hitting after the play and stuff — I’m not going to say names — but it wasn’t the cleanest game in terms of guys playing dirty.”

And those “referees suck” chants became as much of a staple Sunday as the fake mustaches given away in honor of Rams coach Jeff Fisher.

Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former vice president of officiating and a rules analyst for Fox Sports, tweeted: “I’m officially over it. The regular refs need to get back on the field. Enough is enough.”

A stinging analysis of the game’s 18 penalties — and others that weren’t called — preceded Pereira’s tweet.

When yellow flags landed on the dome’s field, the result had all the certainty of spinning a roulette wheel at one of this city’s casinos. No one knew what the call would be, unlike the regular referees, or the reasoning behind it.

“I think they’re doing the best they can,” linebacker London Fletcher said, none too pleased about the officiating but resigned to the reality of the situation.

The game’s frantic final five minutes were as much about the players as the men in black and white. The replacements appeared confused and out of their element. An adventure — or excruciating wait — followed each call.

After what was ruled an incomplete pass to tight end Fred Davis, Rams supporters and players believed the play should’ve been ruled a fumble and touchdown. Redskins were livid the Rams weren’t called for a blow to Davis’ head while he lay defenseless on the ground.

No one was happy, in keeping with the game’s theme.

Or on second and 10, when Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was knocked down. He flung his hands at the ground in frustration after no flag emerged and continued an animated conversation with members of the officiating crew.

Two more scuffles followed when the Rams got the ball and then, when the Redskins drove into Rams territory as the final minutes ticked away, receiver Josh Morgan hucked the ball off cornerback Cortland Finnegan and earned a 15-yard personal foul to wipe out the first down.

The final, inexplicable act of chaos fit the game: unhinged.

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