Column: NFL deserves every bad call it gets

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By JIM LITKE, Associated Press

Remember this a year or two from now, when a video of the final play of Monday night's Packers-Seahawks game turns up on a blooper reel: It wasn't all that funny watching it the first time around.

Two replacement officials, positioned perfectly on either side of the corner of the end zone, appeared to come up with two different calls.

After looking at each other, one waved both arms back and forth, either signaling a touchback or a stoppage of play. The other signaled touchdown.

If you tried to stage a photograph to symbolize the confusion that's dogged the NFL and its games since commissioner Roger Goodell let a lockout of the regular officials spill over into the regular season, you couldn't have done it any better.

The reaction was predictable, overwhelmingly negative, and swift. Anyone still have questions about the integrity of the game? Thought so.

Let's put it this way: If the NFL were a hamburger chain, Goodell would have been fired on the spot.

The league's foot-dragging in bargaining talks with the regular officials was based on the assumption the replacements would get better.

In the meantime, it threatened to fine any coach or player who suggested it was worse. After a string of screw-ups by the officials in Sunday's games, this one ripped the lid off.

Somehow, the mildest reaction of the night came from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

after the Seahawks' 14-12 win was in the books, he was asked whether he'd ever experienced a more bitter defeat.

"Uh, no," Rodgers replied and left it at that.

But why stop there? The replacement officials don't know the rules. They can't control the players or coaches. And both are playing them for suckers.

Just last week, the league sent around a warning against berating the officials. The coaches and players treated it like a dare.

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.

But more than feelings are getting hurt. 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 appeared to be in a hurry about — before Monday night's game — was boosting the charitable donations made by a few of its employees.

Earlier 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. Now, the same might be true for the locked-out officials.

The consensus suggested that wouldn't happen until events forced the commissioner's hand, something like a blown call at the end of a game that cost a team a win.

It wasn't hard to see this one coming, something Browns kicker Phil Dawson practically predicted just hours earlier.

"Unfortunately, I feel like that it's like changing an intersection from a stop sign to a red light," Browns kicker Phil Dawson 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."

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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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