I haven't been dwelling on the replacement officials' stumbling and bumbling at different points of the preseason, because the outcomes of these exhibitions don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. And because, well, it was kind of comical. How could you not laugh during the game against the Falcons when replacement referee Craig Ochoa, who has been accused of being fired by the Lingerie Football League, referred to Atlanta as "Arizona" over the sound system? But now the league has announced that the replacement officials will officiate at least the first week of the season as the league and the referees' union has yet to reach an agreement. You can be sure the NFL will call on one of its more up-to-speed replacement crews for the Monday night opener at M&T Stadium, as millions of Americans will tune in to watch the Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals. I can already see Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, the microphone on his headset pulled to the side, giving an overwhelmed official an earful for botching a call -- or three (as he's doing in this photo from Thursday night's game). There was more confusion for the replacements Thursday, with some extended huddles and one super slow-motion explanation of an illegal procedure call in the first quarter. There was a pass interference penalty against cornerback Asa Jackson that was overturned when one official pointed out to another that the flag was not warranted. And there was a late fumble recovery by defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson. It took Tyson standing up from the side of the pile and waving the football in the air for a few seconds for the officials to realize the Ravens had recovered the ball, and it took a coach's challenge by Harbaugh to get the recovery confirmed. Throw in the misinterpretation of a rule after Jackson tried to catch a short field-goal attempt -- he stepped out of bounds while catching it, which should have made it a touchback, but the ball was given to the Ravens at the spot of the kick -- and it was another rocky night for the refs. Maybe I'm just being too critical here, but I wouldn't be surprised if the replacement officials swung the outcome of a game before the labor issue is resolved with the real ones. Maybe it will be in a game the Ravens play. Maybe it will be on Monday night for the season opener. Maybe it will come back to bite a team at season's end. The miscues won't be as comical then.
Jeff Curry, US PRESSWIRE