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Replacement ref blunder in Bills-Redskins game was inexcusable

Redskins Bills Football

Officials confer on a ruling during an NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Redskins in Orchard Park, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)


On one hand, it’s unfair to slam the replacement officials for harmless, superficial preseason errors like referring to “Atlanta” as “Arizona” (after all, they’re both seven-letter words with an “A” at the front and an “A” at the back) or giving the number of the ball carrier when announcing a holding penalty.

On the other hand, it’s shocking that a crew of officials concluded that a punt that clearly was downed in the field of play during the Redskins-Bills preseason game was a touchback.

I hadn’t seen the video until Wednesday morning, when NFL Network replayed the game. The punt was clearly fielded and downed at the four yard line. Making the mistake even more glaring is the fact that the call wasn’t a real-time brain fart; someone on the crew persuaded the referee during the change of possession that the ball had been touched in the end zone, and no one else on the crew was able to persuasively speak up.

This means that: (1) the person who thought he saw the ball touched in the end zone has some sort of vision or cognitive impairment; (2) the rest of the crew wasn’t paying attention, or also has some sort of vision or cognitive impairment; (3) whoever on the crew saw what the rest of us saw was unable to make a persuasive case to the referee, who leads the crew and makes the finals decision; and/or (4) the referee made a bad decision to take the word of the official who has some sort of vision impairment or cognitive impairment.

Regardless of the reason(s), it’s an unacceptable outcome. While the mistake was rectified via replay review, the Bills shouldn’t have been forced to use a challenge -- and the game shouldn’t have been delayed by several minutes to fix a clear and obvious and inexcusable mistake.

While the league is feigning nonchalance regarding the possible problems that can arise when the replacement officials are handling real games, there has to be very real concern right now at 345 Park Avenue about the things that could go wrong. Thus, for the good of the game, here’s hoping that the league considers a temporary expansion of the replay system to give the folks in the booth (who are the regular replay crews, not replacements) the ability to nudge the replacement officials away from making a mistake that could affect the outcome of a game.

Even better, here’s hoping they work this thing out.