- Associated Press - Monday, September 24, 2012

If the NFL were a hamburger chain, Roger Goodell would already be out as CEO.

What Sunday’s games made clear is that the product is worse. The replacements officials don’t know the rules. They can’t control the players or coaches. And both are playing them for suckers. Remember the warning the league sent around last week threatening to fine anyone who abused the officials? It was treated like a dare to do just that.

Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan followed the officials into the tunnel in Washington after a loss, hurling curses. Steelers linebacker Larry Foote did the same to a different crew in Oakland. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick tried grabbing an official running by him when the game ended in Baltimore to get an explanation he’s waiting for still.

Earlier in that same game, the hometown fans rendered their verdict on the officiating by yelling one word so long and so loud, it can’t be repeated here.

“That’s the loudest manure chant I’ve ever heard,” NBC announcer Al Michaels said.

In separate games, Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was concussed and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo could have been on helmet-to-helmet hits that weren’t called. It was slight consolation for Matt Schaub that the Broncos’ Joe Mays was called for doing the same thing to him, because the Texans quarterback lost a chunk of his left earlobe in the vicious collision.

Players seem determined to try anything and everything they can get away with on the field, treating any penalties handed out after the fact _ and a film review by the league _ simply as the cost of doing business. All that unpunished extracurricular activity is why more plays have become the prelude to a fight.

“We’re going to go out there and push the limit regardless,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. “If they’re calling a game tight, if they’re calling a game loose, it’s going to be pushed to the limit.”

On Sunday, the scenes of confusion on the field extended all the way up to the replay booth _ see: San Francisco at Minnesota and Detroit at Tennessee. Add it all up and you’re looking at officials playing larger and larger roles in longer games with less rhythm than ever.

The only thing the league office appears to be in a hurry about at the moment is boosting the charitable donations made by a few of its employees. On Monday, Denver coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio were docked $30,000 and $25,000, respectively, for verbally abusing the replacement officials on the Monday night game a week ago. NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson says he’s reviewing incidents involving Belichick and Ravens coach John Harbaugh, as well as Kyle Shanahan’s tirade after the Redskins’ loss to the Bengals. All can expect to hear from him sooner rather than later. If only the same were true of the locked-out officials’ union.

The consensus seems to be that won’t happen until events force the commissioner’s hand _ a blown call at the end of a game that costs a team a win. But it’s not hard to argue that a number of bad calls have already impacted games at junctures just as critical and worse. They’re bleeding into the way teams handle everything from play-calling and discipline to timeouts. Browns kicker Phil Dawson summed it up perfectly.

“Unfortunately, I feel like that it’s like changing an intersection from a stop sign to a red light,” he said. “You have to have so many car wrecks before they deem that intersection to be dangerous enough _ and we’re heading that way. Someone’s going to lose a game, if it hasn’t already happened, to get both sides to a pressure point to get a deal done. It’s sad.”


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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