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Replacement refs embarrass the NFL on Monday Night Football

Denver Broncos v Atlanta Falcons

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17: Field judge Mike Weir #50 field judge Jimmy Buchanan #86 and back judge Billy Smith #2 stand on the field during the national anthem prior to the game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Denver Broncos at the Georgia Dome on September 17, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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There’s no sugar-coating it: The replacement officials working Monday Night Football are an embarrassment.

In an ugly first quarter that lasted a full hour, the officials showed themselves to be completely incapable of keeping a game moving and keeping up with the fast-paced, stressful job that is officiating in the NFL.

In what may have been the single biggest display of incompetence so far in this lockout of the NFL referees, there was a six-minute delay late in the first quarter while the officials attempted to straighten out what happened when Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno fumbled and players on both sides were pushing and shoving in a pileup. Players came off the bench to get into the scrum. Coaches came off the sideline to get involved. Players were getting in officials’ faces and yelling at them, and in some cases putting their hands on the officials. The officials seemed totally overwhelmed and unsure how to restore order.

In the end, only one player (Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards, whom the referee referred to as “93 red”) was penalized, and no one was ejected. It’s a mystery why other players weren’t penalized. In particular, why wasn’t Broncos center J.D. Walton ejected for grabbing an official and pulling him away from the pile?

It also wasn’t clear that the Falcons actually recovered the fumble -- the Broncos looked like they jumped on it -- although the fact that the officials might have awarded possession to the wrong team became a side issue in the chaos that ensued.

The pileup after the Moreno fumble was only the most glaring of several instances in which it was clear that the officials didn’t have control over the game. At another point, Broncos coach John Fox screamed at the officials and appeared to get a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the officials picked up the flag and didn’t explain why they hadn’t enforced the penalty. There was also a penalty on the Broncos for hitting Matt Ryan after he slid -- which was the right call, although the flag only came out after the Falcons started complaining and the crowd started grumbling. Officials need to look like they’re swift, decisive and immune to outside influence, not like they’re influenced by people yelling at them.

Since I started here by calling the replacement officials an embarrassment, let me conclude by making clear that they’re not an embarrassment to themselves -- they’re doing the best they can at a hard job they were thrown into with too little training. No, they’re an embarrassment to Roger Goodell and the NFL owners, who are allowing underqualified and unprepared people to tarnish a great league.