By Ernie Palladino
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A civilized person might hide the names to protect the innocent. But, hey, we’re not about that here. Not at all.
You put yourself out there, you take the heat.
So here’s the heat.
The replacement officials are not only not going to cut it once the NFL regular season starts next Wednesday with Dallas at the Giants, but they might just cause a couple of strokes on the sideline along the way.
After four preseason games, the most recent being last night’s 6-3 Giants win over the Patriots at MetLife Stadium, you’d think the replacement officials might have gotten a grasp of the rudiments of calling a game.
Replacement referee Don King and his crew, certainly well-meaning but totally inept, butchered three calls in the first half alone and had both coaches perplexed, to say the least. At best, you could call them equal opportunity nuisances, as both Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick wanted a piece of them.
On the same call.
It happened on Steve Weatherford’s second-quarter punt from his 21. Down went two flags, one by the line of scrimmage, the other downfield where the ball died.
First, King called one foul on each team. Illegal shift on the Giants, late hit on the Patriots. And somehow, the ball got moved back five yards on the re-kick.
Conference with Belichick.
Conference with Coughlin.
Now it’s the same penalties, only both are on the Giants. Common football sense dictates that the ball would be moved half the distance to the goal line. Ball is still five yards back.
Conference with Belichick.
Ball remains five yards back as Belichick shakes his head.
Yep, cant’ wait to see these guys in the regular season. If the NFL was smart, they’d hurry up and make a deal with the real guys. It’s bad enough when experienced officials grapple mightily with the finer aspects of the rule book. But when an inexperienced group can’t figure out who gets which flag, and then blows the ball placement after five full minutes of discussion with themselves and two coaches, you’ve got real problems.
None of this is new, of course. Players and coaches have been complaining about the new folks since they decided to entrust neophytes with the hankies during the offseason programs. They’re sticking around through the first week of the season, too, thanks to Wednesday’s league announcement that negotiations with the official’s union have taken on the character of hardening molasses.
Were that the game’s only officiating glitch, Coughlin and Belichick might have headed into Week 1 thinking the situation was perhaps tenable. King and his bunch were far from done, though.
On a Giants’ third-and-7, they called an offensive hold on a no-gain run. King didn’t notice the Pats declining to force a punt. Thankfully, he probably heard somebody yelling and changed the call.
The third mishap came on a Patriots punt, when Da’Rel Scott basically bulldozed punter Zoltan Mesko. Flag stays in pocket. Four seconds, five seconds, six seconds. Flag finally comes out.
Well, at least they got it right. Eventually.
There would be one more mess-up that could have caused a Vesuvian explosion in a real game. On the Pats’ final play of the fourth quarter, the Giants up by a field goal, Laron Scott ran under Brian Hoyer’s deep throw for an interception near the goal line. From where Coughlin was standing, it should have resulted in a touchback.
Instead, Giants ball at the 1.
“Did anybody see that ball go out of bounds at the 1?” Coughlin wondered, shaking his head in his post-game press conference. “I saw it skidding through the end zone. Don’t ask me any questions (about that).”
That’s just Coughlin being sensitive about Roger Goodell potentially taking money out of his pocket, since criticizing a faux official draws the same fine as ripping the genuine article. But it is a concern.
A big concern, regardless of the coach’s attempt at diplomacy afterward.
“I don’t have any control over (officials situation),” Coughlin said. “For me to say there is or isn’t concern, you do the very best you can with them. You just hope these officials know the rules and can keep the game under control and keep order. Hopefully they’ll be able to do that.”
For all the importance of this game for the Giants’ and Patriots’ collection of hopefuls and no-names so typically found in preseason finales, for all the importance of a starter like Hakeem Nicks getting his first snaps after sitting out camp with a broken foot, this was just as important for the replacement refs.
They needed to show they could handle a game and give players and coaches a little hope that the only foe they’ll have to fight when the real games start is the opposition.
It didn’t happen.
Don’t be surprised to see a coach or two blow a gasket during Kickoff Week.
How many weeks into the regular season will it take for the replacements to make a huge, horrible, game-deciding mistake? Be heard in the comments below…