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NFL replacement refs have improved with each passing week


I've been involved with the NFL since 1960, and I've never seen fans more excited than they were last weekend. If you looked in on, say the Washington Redskins-New Orleans Saints game or the matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, the fan reaction was absolutely phenomenal. But on an action-packed weekend, one of the things that most stood out was the performance of the replacement officials. This shouldn't be a big topic of conversation, because the focus should be on football, but with the labor standoff continuing between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association, I thought the replacements did a good job overall.

The replacements missed a few calls in Week 1, but I think most of their mistakes were minor, such as failing to spot the ball correctly after a double foul. I did not see them flub very many of the more important judgment calls.

There was, of course, the incident in the Seattle Seahawks-Arizona Cardinals game on Sunday, in which the replacement officials accidentally granted the Seahawks four timeouts in the second half. The official who messed up admitted the mistake, but the supervisor in the booth should have reminded the officials on the field that Seattle had given up its final timeout when receiver Doug Baldwin was injured with less than two minutes to play.

For the most part, though, I was impressed with how the officials performed. From the Hall of Fame Game to Week 1 of the regular season, I've seen marked improvement, especially when it comes to knowing the rules. They've gotten progressively better at that aspect of officiating, and they learn from their mistakes. I'm sure, for example, that we won't see any more confusion regarding timeouts in the last two minutes of games.

I've also been impressed with their poise in the spotlight and on national television. Jim Core, the referee in the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game that kicked off the 2012 season last week, handled himself very well. Unfortunately, that didn't keep people from fixating on his background as an administrator at a middle school near Boise, Idaho. I thought that was a bit of a backhanded slap at the guy, given that nine of the officials listed in the 2012 NFL Record and Fact Book and two of the referees, Tony Corrente (educator) and Pete Morelli (high school principal), have similar jobs.

I understand that in labor disputes people are going to say what they feel they have to say. But I think that some of the criticism that has been dished out against the replacement officials has been unfair, considering the job that they've been doing.

I'm in favor of whatever is best for the game. While the replacement officials have room to improve, I do think they're very much in tune with how to keep the game safe for the players. They called important safety-related penalties in the Cowboys-Giants game, for example, penalizing the Cowboys for a horse-collar tackle and for roughing the passer.

Ultimately, I think the replacement officials are, like anyone working at a new job, getting better as they gain experience. They need to pick up their game when it comes to relatively minor issues like spotting the ball, but I think that the NFL could use the replacement officials for as long as they need to. They could even use them for the rest of the season, if necessary.

Other Week 1 observations

» Folks made lots of noise about the fact that five rookie quarterbacks started to open the season, but it's worth noting that we've seen a gaggle of first-year players ascend depth charts across the league at a host of different positions. By my count, a total of 47 rookies started in Week 1, not counting punters, kickers, long snappers or returners. In addition to the five quarterbacks, five rookie running backs and fullbacks, three rookie receivers, three rookie tight ends, 11 rookie offensive linemen, four rookie defensive linemen, nine rookie linebackers and seven rookie defensive backs started.

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» Fans enjoy high-scoring games, and Week 1 was full of them. Eight of 16 Week 1 games saw teams score a combined 50 points or more. By contrast, Week 1 of the 2011 season featured just three such games. The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills combined for 76 points last weekend. That total was just 11 points fewer than the all-time opening-week high, set on Sept. 28, 1947, when the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Washington Redskins, 45-42.

» The record for longest field goal in NFL history is 63 yards. San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers became the fourth player ever to hit that mark on Sunday, but I think there's another kicker in the league who's going to break that record, possibly even this year: St. Louis Rams rookie Greg Zuerlein. The sixth-round draft pick, who hit field goals of 48, 29 and 46 yards on Sunday, has an unbelievable leg.

» I'd like to hand out three Unsung Hero awards this week, to guys who had an impact but weren't talked about much. Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee should get one for forcing New York Giants rookie running back David Wilson to fumble in the first quarter of Wednesday's game, squelching the Giants' attempt to gather early momentum. Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway should get one for his efforts in pass coverage during his team's 26-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Finally, Cowboys strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik should get one, because I think one of the reasons that the Cowboys won last week was because they were the better-conditioned team.

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