NFL notebook: Furor over replacement refs reaches fever pitch

Published: Monday, Sept. 24 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, left, looks on during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Gail Burton) (Associated Press) New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, left, looks on during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Gail Burton) (Associated Press)

NEW YORK — New England coach Bill Belichick was confused about a decisive field goal he thought was off-target. Detroit's Jim Schwartz couldn't understand a 27-yard penalty walk-off for unnecessary roughness. Philadelphia's Andy Reid felt ignored while trying to decline a penalty.

The furor over the work of replacement officials reached something of a fevered pitch during Week 3 in the NFL, when even deciphering downs and distance became a challenge.

In Sunday night's Ravens-Patriots game, shoving matches followed even insignificant plays. One TV analyst called it the substitute-teacher syndrome: See how much you can get away with before the real thing returns.

"Nature says for us that 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. You are pushing it to the brink. If things are going to be called easier, and in some situations I feel like they've been less lenient, too, you've just got to play and see how (it's being called)."

If you can figure it out.

Broncos coach John Fox was fined $30,000 Monday and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio $25,000 for verbal abuse of the officials during a Monday night game against Atlanta on Sept. 17.

More fines are likely for Belichick and Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and perhaps for others.

Fox and Del Rio were hit for their sideline histrionics, particularly when Fox was told he couldn't challenge a call of 12 men on the field — he was correct that he could challenge, although replays showed the Broncos were guilty.

Before grabbing the arm of an official, Belichick wanted to know why Justin Tucker's field goal was called good in Baltimore's 31-30 victory Sunday night. He couldn't tell from his angle on the sideline, he said.

"So when the game was over, I went out and I was really looking for an explanation from the officials as to whether the play was under review," he said, "and I did try to get the official's attention as he was coming off the field to ask that, but I really wasn't able to do that."

Most confusing was the mark-off for a Lions penalty in overtime at Tennessee. Officials wound up penalizing Detroit from its 44-yard line rather than from the original line of scrimmage, the Titans 44.

Soon after, Rob Bironas kicked a go-ahead field goal.

Schwartz noted that the alternate official who helps the replacements with administrating penalties was on the Detroit sideline.

"We said, 'You're enforcing it from the wrong spot.' He was adamant that they weren't doing so," Schwartz said. "At that point, we just needed to play."

They didn't play well enough to avoid losing 44-41, and Titans coach Mike Munchak wasn't apologizing for how his team won.

"I don't feel any guilt," Munchak said. "For us, really the obvious answer is there's nothing we can do about who's officiating games. It's the same for everybody, so go out and don't get caught up in all that."

The league and the officials' union met Sunday without reaching any agreement on ending the lockout that began in June. The players' union also called on the 32 team owners to end the lockout because it is compromising the integrity of the game.

While most of the coaches are being careful what they say about the replacements, the players and broadcasters are less inhibited.

"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."

Certainly not holding back on the criticism are some of the NFL's broadcast partners. Analyst Cris Collinsworth was forthright in his evaluation of the officiating problems Sunday night, as were Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden during last Monday night's flag-fest in Atlanta.

"We don't want to talk about the officials, trust us," ESPN's Tirico said. "But it's affecting the game. When we meet with teams and coordinators, frustration boils out into limited on-the-record statements. Off the record, what guys are saying — it's a nightmare. It is impacting the game.

"It hasn't burned a team to cost them a playoff spot yet. But you should go back and watch the film. There are so many little things that players are getting away with that is absolutely impacting the game to the detriment of the product."

Yet some players aren't completely down on the performances of the replacements.

Patriots receiver Deion Branch noted all the controversy about officiating throughout the league.

"But I think the bigger picture is that we've all got to understand that, hey, they're making those calls on both sides of the ball," Branch said. "Us as players, we need to remove ourselves from what the refs are doing and just go out and play our game."

Rams defensive end Chris Long offered, apparently with no sarcasm, that the game "hasn't changed at all with the replacement officials because officials don't care about defensive linemen, replacement or first-tier officials."

Then he admitted taking the regular officials for granted.

"The NFL could really use them back," Long said.

NFL SEEKING TO BLOCK VILMA'S REQUEST: A federal magistrate has ordered attorneys for the NFL and Jonathan Vilma to hold a status conference on Thursday to discuss the league's efforts to block Vilma's demands for evidence in the NFL's bounty investigation of the Saints.

The NFL filed a motion on Monday arguing that attempts to initiate discovery are premature because another motion to dismiss Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Commissioner Roger Goodell is still pending.

The league's motion says Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, has this month subpoenaed the NFL, Goodell, NFL investigator Joe Hummel, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo.

Ginsberg has demanded documents and sought to schedule depositions, including a deposition of Goodell on Oct. 23.

Vilma's lawsuit alleges Goodell publicly prejudged Vilma in the bounty probe without sufficient evidence.

HEYWARD-BEY RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL: Oakland Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey has been released from the hospital after being knocked out by a helmet-to-helmet hit.

The Raiders say Heyward-Bey went home Monday morning after spending the night in the hospital under observation. The team says he has a concussion and neck strain and is expected to make a full recovery.

Heyward-Bey was running across the end zone early in the fourth quarter of Oakland's 34-31 victory to catch a pass from Carson Palmer when Pittsburgh safety Ryan Mundy launched his body and lowered his helmet into Heyward-Bey's facemask.

JETS' REVIS LIKELY TO MISS SEASON WITH TORN ACL: The NFL's top shutdown cornerback will likely be shut down for the season.

Darrelle Revis has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that will require surgery, a huge blow for the New York Jets that leaves coach Rex Ryan without his best defensive player.

A somber Ryan stopped short of ruling Revis out for the season on Monday, saying he just learned of the MRI results. But Revis will have to wait two or three weeks before surgery, Ryan said, and the recovery from an ACL tear is usually six-to-nine months. So the chances of Revis returning this season appear extremely slim.

Ryan added that he will speak with Revis before the team decides whether he will be placed on injured reserve, a move that could happen as early as Tuesday.

"It's just disappointing," Ryan said. "This guy wants to win. As great a player as he is individually, he's a great teammate and just wants to win. That's why he was so excited about this year."

The 27-year-old Revis was injured in the third quarter of the Jets' 23-20 overtime victory at Miami on Sunday, falling awkwardly and grabbing his knee even before he hit the grass. It was a non-contact injury, and he covered his face with gloved hands in obvious pain. He was able to walk off the field, but was taken into the locker room on a golf cart.

"Thanks for all the support!" Revis wrote on his Twitter page on Monday night. "It's just part of the game, I'm already on my way to recover!"

Ryan suspected the injury was serious when he talked to Revis on the plane ride home. MRI results Monday morning confirmed the team's worst fears.

"It's something we have to overcome as a football team. ... We're going to lose that presence. I don't know what else to say about it," Ryan said. "I guess that's the horrible thing that came out of the game."

This was Revis' first game after missing a week with a concussion sustained in the season opener against Buffalo. He had missed only three games before this season, all in 2010.

LIONS MUM ON STAFFORD'S LEG: The Matthew Stafford health watch has begun anew, an unpleasantly familiar move for the Detroit Lions.

Stafford left late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 44-41 overtime loss at Tennessee with a strained muscle in his right leg, and although Shaun Hill played well in a relief role, the last thing the Lions want is a return to the days when their franchise quarterback wasn't able to stay healthy. Stafford was banged up as a rookie in 2009 and played only 10 games, and he was limited to three the following season because of problems with his throwing shoulder.

CARDINALS OFF TO FAST START: Seeing Philadelphia receiver DeSean Jackson racing over the middle with the ball in his hands, Kerry Rhodes charged out of the end zone and stood him up. Jackson fought and wriggled, trying to get past the Arizona Cardinals safety, but Rhodes held his ground and wrestled him down at the 1-yard line.

Two plays later, Rhodes blindsided Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, causing a fumble that James Sanders scooped up and returned for a 93-yard touchdown.

Need a reason for the Cardinals' best start in 38 years? It's plays like that from their dominating defense.

"We have a swagger and a lot of confidence," Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington said. "We believe in one another and as the season progresses, we'll continue to get better."

Expectations weren't exactly high for the Cardinals to start the season, and eking out a win over Seattle in the opener didn't do much to sway opinions.

A 20-18 win over New England, one of Arizona's biggest road victories in recent years, helped a little, though the prevailing thought was more about what's wrong with the Patriots than how good are the Cardinals.

That changed Sunday against Philadelphia.

The Cardinals knocked Vick into their bench on the first play from scrimmage and kept coming after him, manhandling the Eagles for a 27-6 victory. Arizona sacked Vick five times, forced him to fumble twice — the big one leading to Sanders' touchdown return just before halftime — and spent most of the afternoon battering him and the rest of the Eagles.

The here-we-are win leaves the Cardinals as one of three undefeated teams left in the NFL, with Houston and Atlanta, and has them off to their best start since 1974, 14 years before the team moved to the desert.

"They're playing hard, they're believing in the scheme and it's a great feeling when everyone's playing the way they are," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

The defense has led the way.

While the offense has limited its mistakes and the special teams have come up with some big plays, the defense has simply dominated.

Led by a long-and-strong front line and a group of fast, attacking linebackers, the Cardinals have batted quarterbacks around like piñatas and left few gaps for running backs to slip through.

Arizona has allowed two touchdowns — none rushing — through three games and leads the NFL with 13.3 points against per game. The Cardinals held the Patriots under 20 points for the first time in 26 home games and kept the Eagles out of the end zone for the first time since the 2009 season finale.

Arizona has 12 sacks, second-best to Chicago's 14 in the NFL, and has spread the sack dances around, with seven different players getting at least one. The Cardinals also have at least two sacks in nine straight games, the NFL's longest current streak.

MARSHALL, SAPP WAGE WAR OF WORDS: Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall criticized former NFL star Warren Sapp for calling him a "retard" in a radio interview.

That struck a chord with Marshall, who has acknowledged receiving treatment for borderline personality disorder and anger management, and he fired back Monday in an online video.

"I got a really disturbing heads-up on something Warren Sapp said, called me retarded. That's really disappointing to hear that from an NFL legend, but I'm going to take this as a lesson, and I think we all can learn from this," Marshall said in the video posted online. "Be very careful who you take advice from. You want to surround yourself with good people, godly people. When I look at Warren Sapp, I can't go to him and talk about finances because he filed for bankruptcy. I can't go to him and talk about my marriage because he filed for divorce. I can't go to him and talk about being a father because one day I'm going to have children, because he's not active in his children's life."

Marshall later posted on Twitter that he received an e-mail from Sapp asking "where and when" and that he assumed he was being challenged to a fight.

All that stemmed from an interview with the outspoken Sapp, an NFL Network analyst, on the syndicated "The Dan Patrick Show." He was criticizing today's players in general, saying they have "no relevance for the past, have no conscious of what it is" when he blasted Marshall.

"I mean Brandon Marshall talking about Shannon Sharpe ... 'Who is he to talk?' " Sapp said. "He's the first 100-catch receiver (tight end) back to back, retard. What you just did in Denver for three years. You don't know this? Of course he doesn't because it's not about Brandon Marshall. It ain't about the past, it's about me because it's about personal success, pay me and now I'll think about being a team guy."

It appeared Sapp was actually referring to NFL analyst Sterling Sharpe, Shannon's brother, who questioned Marshall's effort in the Dolphins' loss to the New York Jets a year ago. Marshall responded at the time, saying the commentators need to stop worrying about stuff they know nothing about.

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