Dirty Laundry: More replacement fun

We anticipated Friday that the third week of preseason games would bring heightened criticism and concern about the NFL's replacement officials. Chicago Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould started the ball rolling by referring to them as "clueless," and late Friday, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe tweeted:

Two of the most egregious at the Metrodome were both judgment calls, as opposed to misunderstandings of the rule. They were glaring nonetheless. As Mark Craig of the Star Tribune noted, Chargers coach Norv Turner was forced to challenge two obvious mistakes: That Vikings running back Lex Hilliard had in fact fumbled in the second quarter and that De'Andre Presley had corralled an interception a few minutes later.

Meanwhile, there was some confusion as to whether officials in the Chicago Bears' game against the New York Giants had erred by giving the Giants an untimed down at the end of the first quarter. The play came after Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was called for pass interference on what would have been the final play of the first quarter.

Typically you see untimed downs only at the end of the first half or game. I'm awaiting further explanation, but my reading of the NFL rule book suggests it's possible the decision was within the realm of NFL rules. The team that was penalized against has the option of accepting an untimed down at the end of the first or third quarter as well. It could be an advantage, say, when the team is about to lose a wind advantage on a stormy day.

NFL rule 4, section 8 reads in part: "At the election of the opponent, a period may be extended for one untimed down, if any of the following occurs during a down during which time in the period expires: (a) If there is a foul by the defensive team that is accepted, the offensive team may choose to extend the period by an untimed down after enforcement of the penalty. If the first or third period is not so extended, any accepted penalty is enforced before the start of the succeeding period."

The question is if Giants coach Tom Coughlin asked for the first quarter to be extended. I've not yet seen confirmation of that, but I'm not ready to slam the officials in this instance yet, either.

As we discussed Friday, you hate to see officials miss obvious judgment calls. But worse, to me, is when they misapply the rules. You hope it didn't happen during this Bears-Giants game, but it's fair to wonder why Coughlin would want to extend the first quarter of a preseason game. Regardless, the episode reminds us how deep the NFL rulebook is and how much information an official must process in a short time.

In the end, this is a labor dispute that you would imagine will soon come to a head. Locked-out officials are banking on the assumption that the NFL won't want to open the season with the potential embarrassment of replacements, while the league knows that officials don't want to miss weekly game checks by continuing to reject its contract proposals. Something's got to give, and usually in these situations, it does.