Wednesday September 26, 2012

If they were in charge on the field in any other professional sports league, Mike Decker doesn't think replacement referees would pose a problem.

After Week 3 of the NFL season, though -- particularly Monday night's game between Green Bay and Seattle -- the Adams resident said he's concerned for the sport.

"This is a 16-game season," said Decker, 29. "This isn't basketball or baseball, where margin of error is a little more acceptable."

Criticism of the NFL and its officials, who are fill-ins due to the ongoing lockout of the regular officials, reached a high point Monday night when a controversial, last-second touchdown gave the Seahawks a 14-12 win.

Multiple replays appeared to show Packers safety M.D. Jennings coming down with the pass from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson before receiver Golden Tate put his hands on the ball.

Officials initially gave conflicting signals -- one a touchdown, and the other a touchback, indicating an interception in the end zone -- before the ruling was given as simultaneous possession, which counts as an offensive reception.

Taconic High senior wide receiver Jordan Barbarotta said Tate made the same move he would have made.

"I've gone up for a ball against other kids, just like that, but not in that situation," Barbarotta said. "Golden Tate made the right move, but the defender made a nice play."

Pittsfield resident Drew Mandell, a Clocktower Deli employee who picked the Packers to win the game in The Eagle's weekly NFL picks, said Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the ball reached the pile of players vying for it in the final second. The league acknowledged this in its statement Monday, but added that the game's outcome would stand.

"Usually, they let it get a little physical on jump balls, but he grabbed this guy [Packers cornerback Sam Shields] and threw him to the ground pretty hard," Mandell said.

Monday's controversy came one night after the Baltimore Ravens beat the New England Patriots 31-30 on a last-second field goal that looked to some like it went wide right.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick tried to grab the arm of an official leaving the field, looking for an explanation, but the official did not stop.

"It was a little out of control, with 30-something penalties [24, actually] being called during the game," said Decker, a Patriots fan.

No punishment for Belichick has been announced by the league. Two Denver Broncos coaches were fined for arguing with officials last week.

St. Joseph's High School coach Gary Bianchi doesn't believe there's any intimidation of the replacement officials by the coaches, but thinks the coaches are simply reacting to what they're seeing.

"The coaches are used to dealing with the best in the business, and they're dealing with guys who [mostly] couldn't get to Division I," Bianchi said. "I can't even imagine what the speed of the NFL game is, and that's what these replacement officials are walking into."

Williams College assistant and longtime Mount Greylock coach John Allen doesn't see intimidation by the coaches, but he does see it from the players.

"There's so much more ... it looks to me like holding, pushing, shoving and cheap stuff after the play," Allen said. "I don't know if they're trying to get away with things with the officials or not."

The officials currently calling games are coming from lower levels such as Arena League football, NCAA Divisions II and III, the NAIA, and even high schools.

Barbarotta -- whose next encounter with officials will come Friday night, as Taconic plays at Lee -- said he believes the regular NFL referees would have made the right call in Seattle.

"I think they [the replacements] are doing the best they can, but the best they can definitely isn't even close to as good as the normal refs," he said. "They know what they're talking about as referees. It's just pressure in that moment that they've never had to deal with before, and at that level."

Even if the result of the play Monday night had been the same, Bianchi believes there wouldn't be a controversy surrounding the Packers-Seahawks finish if regular officials were on hand for the game.

"Whether it was right or wrong, the controversy is because it's the guys who shouldn't be making the call," he said.

To reach Matthew Sprague:
msprague@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6254.
On Twitter: @EagleSportsZone.