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On the final play of the final game of one of the most shameful weekends in NFL history, a last-gasp pass from the Seattle Seahawks fell from the sky into the arms of the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.
Touchdown, Seattle. Chaos, NFL.
Seahawks stun Packers on disputed play, 14-12
Three weeks of gross incompetence by unqualified replacement officials crystallized in two moments Monday night that pushed the league's integrity to the brink.
In one moment, Packers safety M.D. Jennings clearly intercepted a final-play pass while falling upon Seahawks receiver Golden Tate in the end zone, preserving an apparent 12-7 Green Bay win.
In the next moment, the replacement officials ruled that Tate had made the catch, and upheld that ruling after replay review, giving the Seahawks a 14-12 victory.
Said Packers Coach Mike McCarthy: "I've never seen anything like that in all my years in football."
Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman tweeted: "These games are a joke."
It's finally happened. After three weeks of forgetting the rules, losing track of the ball, and haphazardly administering this country's national pastime as if they were salesmen on vacation from Foot Locker, the replacement officials have finally done serious, irrevocable damage. The arrogant NFL's middle-school and small-college substitutes for the locked-out regular officials have finally, actually, literally made one wrong call that decided the outcome of a game.
It was one of the worst calls in the history of the league, yet it might turn out to be one of the best calls if humiliated Commissioner Roger Goodell was listening to the message it sent.
Give it up. Settle this labor dispute. Settle it now. Your power play didn't work. Officials are not cardboard cutouts who can be replaced with cheap facsimiles. The decorum of your sport cannot be enforced by substitute teachers. The safety of your players cannot be monitored by crossing guards. The administration of your game cannot be handled by temps.
Cut your losses. Show who you are. Show what your game means. Prove that the new national pastime is not just another corrupt old business. Prove that you really respect the game more than you need to win this labor fight. Do you really care as much about the health of your players as the health of your league's bank account? Has all this recent cracking down on cracking heads been sincere or just spin?
End this lockout before it further damages the season while indelibly staining your legacy. End it before Thursday begins a fourth weekend of madness.
Even before Monday night, the fans had spoken. Did you hear the cursing chant from Baltimore? When the Ravens faithful had finally endured enough of this foolishness Sunday, they rained a unified two-syllable expletive down upon the fake officials that walloped millions of television viewers like a Ray Lewis forearm, the loudest and longest profane chant I've ever heard.
The players had also spoken. Less than a week after the NFL ordered its personnel to stop harassing the paper zebras because "everybody has a responsibility to respect the game," one guy was still so angry he put it in writing. Brandon Spikes, linebacker for the New England Patriots, tweeted, "Can some 1 please tell these [expletive] zebras foot locker called and they're needed Back at work!!!!" His hashtag was a perfection description of the situation. It read, #BreakingPoint.
Even the game's finest coach spoke. Bill Belichick was so upset after his Patriots lost to the Ravens on Sunday, he grabbed at one of the replacement officials in an act of rage rarely seen in a league where a head coach has never been ejected from a game.
Want to know my favorite statistic of Week 3 before Monday? Sixteen of 20 coach's challenges resulted in overturned calls, meaning officials made the wrong decision on 80% of some of the biggest plays. Think about that.
Want to know my second-favorite statistic? When you crunch the numbers, if the NFL gave the locked-out referees everything they wanted, it would cost about $100,000 extra per team per season. That equals about four games' pay for one of a team's lowest-paid players. The owners are watching their sport burn because they won't improve the officials' compensation by about one-fourth the amount they would pay a backup guard? Think about that.
OK, real quick, I've got a third-favorite statistic from last weekend. There were 13 penalty first downs in the game between the Patriots and the Ravens, which is only the most in the history of the NFL.
The only numbers that seem to concern Goodell, of course, are the television ratings, which are as booming as ever. As long as the players and fans won't walk over this — and neither group is budging — then Goodell apparently feels that the officiating problems are irrelevant. Heck, he probably thinks the poor officiating is good for league buzz.
But I've got some Internet photos in front of me that should remind him of a different, much more frightening possibility.
In one of the photos, Shannon Eastin, a replacement who is the league's first female official, is sitting behind a pile of chips while competing in the 2007 World Series of Poker. Lovely. Somebody making decisions that affect the outcome of NFL games is a gambler.
In another photo, replacement Brian Stroplo is wearing New Orleans Saints gear. The NFL pulled him from the rotation after seeing these photos, but the guy had already officiated one game, and how would you like to be a Saints opponent penalized by a guy shouting "Who Dat?"
Because there obviously wasn't much vetting of the replacements, this means there could be other officials susceptible to outside influences, and you know where I'm going here. If replacement officials remain, how long before a coach seriously charges that a game has been fixed? Already, the betting lines in Las Vegas have changed to reflect a belief that replacements are being swayed by home crowds, and when has an NFL point spread been altered because of concerns about potentially tainted officials? Answer: Never.
If Goodell still didn't hear Monday night's message, then he needs to listen to his own office, in that scolding memo it sent to the league.
"Everybody has a responsibility to respect the game."
This includes the guy running it.