1. The Refs Draw a Flag. You might not want to hire the NFL to conduct your background checks. A few of the league’s replacement refs, it seems, should not have been on the field. Before Sunday’s New Orleans Saints–Carolina Panthers game, ESPN informed the NFL that a side judge for that game, Brian Stropolo, was in fact a proud Saints fan. How did ESPN know? Stropolo’s Facebook page included pictures of him tailgating in Saints gear at a Saints preseason game. He’s from the New Orleans area. “Hey, now be nice with those yellow flags for our Saints!!” someone commented on Stropolo’s page. The NFL took him off the game; on NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King said Stropolo was slated to work next week, though not near New Orleans. As for Stropolo’s Saints, they fell to their first 0-2 start since 2007, losing 35-27.
In another case of conflict, NFL.com reported that a replacement field judge in last week’s Seattle Seahawks–Arizona Cardinals game had worked as a practice official for the Seahawks over the past three years. Practice refs get a check from the team. So a man who has been paid by the Seahawks, and who would presumably be interested in working for them after the referee lockout is over, worked a game in which Seattle was incorrectly awarded an extra timeout. (Seattle still lost.)
Overall, the replacement refs had a rough week. “The NFL and everybody always talks about the integrity of the game,” Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said after his team’s 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. “I think this is kind of along those lines. Not to say these guys are doing a bad job, but the fact that we don’t have the normal guys out there is pretty crazy.” This could be some sour grapes; Flacco’s team lost. Still, he had a point. The Ravens-Eagles game dragged on forever, after innumerable official conferences and replay reviews. In the New York Jets–Pittsburgh Steelers game, the Steelers were penalized for a mystery pass interference, while several violent hits were not flagged. Defensive players are getting away with illegal contact on passing routes. You don’t know what you’re going to get out of the replacements; for the good of the game, the NFL has to rush back to the negotiating table and reach agreement with the regulars.
2. Belichick Clams Up. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is famous for playing aggressive football. Remember when he went for it on fourth and 2 from New England’s own 28-yard line late in a 2009 game against the Indianapolis Colts? That decision backfired: the Pats didn’t convert, and the Colts won. But Belichick stood by his decision. He wanted to put the game away and not give Peyton Manning a chance to return to the field.
So that’s why the end of the Patriots–Arizona Cardinals game, played in Foxboro, Mass., was so mystifying. Arizona gave New England a gift. With just over a minute left and Arizona up 20-18, the Cardinals just needed to run down the clock to pull off an upset. But Arizona running back Ryan Williams fumbled, and the ball was recovered by New England at the Arizona 30-yard line. With 46 sec. left, the Patriots had plenty of time to move the ball closer to the goal line and set up an easier field goal for Stephen Gostkowski, New England’s reliable kicker. He had already booted four field goals on the day.
But Belichick got conservative. The Pats sat on the ball, settling for a 42-yard attempt for Gostkowski, no chip shot. He shanked it, and Arizona pulled off a wild win, marking the first time New England has lost its opening home game since moving to Gillette Stadium in 2002. Gostkowski needed to make that kick. But he should have gotten an easier look.
3. Bush-League Buccaneers. On Sunday, rookie Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano likely lost respect around the league. After the New York Giants erased a 14-point deficit to beat the Bucs 41-34, in no small part thanks to quarterback Eli Manning’s throwing for 510 yards and three touchdowns, New York head coach Tom Coughlin — a two-time Super Bowl winner — gave Schiano a dressing-down. During the postgame handshake, Coughlin berated Schiano because on the last play of the game, the Bucs’ defensive players barreled over the line of scrimmage as Manning took a knee to end it. “What I do with our football team is, we fight until they tell us game over,” Schiano said afterward. In the NFL, however, there’s an unwritten rule: when the winning team lines up in the Victory formation to take a knee and run out the clock, the losers don’t knock them on their behinds. No one was going to strip the ball from Manning as his knee touched the ground.
“I don’t think you do that at this level,” Coughlin said after the game. “You don’t do that in this league. You don’t jeopardize the offensive line. You [don’t] jeopardize the quarterback. Thank goodness we didn’t get anybody hurt, that I know of.”
The message to Schiano: keep that crap in college.