By Ted Fleming
There was always the running gag that when National Football League referees had a bad game, the fans would vent on social media and call-in sports shows saying Foot Locker wanted them to report back to work the next day. Those sentiments are now magnified in light of Monday’s Seattle stunner, where a bad call by replacement refs made a winner out of a team that should have lost.
Regardless of the sport, the best game is the one where officials are barely noticed. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the lockout of regular NFL referees is affecting the game in a startling way — teams are not only preparing for opponents, but also for the men in the striped shirts.
The Panthers have enough problems as it is; worrying about outside forces should be the last of their concerns. They are 1-2, coming off a bad game and a postgame aftermath that is still being discussed today.
Quarterback Cam Newton is in a fragile state right now, and if there is a single thing other than losing that will turn his thousand-watt smile upside down it could be a major bad call against his Panthers. Already 0-2 within their own division, a loss this weekend puts them behind the eight-ball in the NFC South and severely diminishes any hope of being a playoff team this season.
If you thought Newton’s presser after the Giants loss was something, a referee-induced defeat could make the one this Sunday one for the ages. The NFL and locked out refs could settle their difference today, but the replacements will still be on the field for another week. That means another set of longer games, an overwhelming number of pass interference flags and the potential for another game-changing call on the final play.
You have to remember that Carolina was burned for 280 passing yards against New York, and now they will be up against an Atlanta club that threw for 265 against the formerly unbeaten San Diego Chargers. The way those yellow hankies are being thrown about — a lot of them questionable — means it could be problematic for a Panthers’ defense that is ranked 18th.
People can talk about the replacements until they’re blue in the face, but the one thing that seems to stand out more than the pass interference issues is their inability to control the game. Forget that the game is so fast they miss crackback blocks that cause injury or the phantom pass interference issues; the usual pushing and shoving that goes on after a play now escalates to the point of everyone getting involved.
The Panthers and Falcons are divisional rivals and the intensity level in those games is ramped up more than normal. When these scrums spiral out of control because the replacements are out of their league in stopping them — or at least slowing them down (possibly because they are not as respected as the regular refs) – -bodies start flying and the potential for someone to get hurt increases.
Right now only the games are affected because the NFL owners lack the common sense to see their game is being compromised. But what happens this Sunday if the Falcons lose their leader, Matt Ryan, because someone rolls up on his knee in one of these post-action free-for-alls? Do you think they will get it then?
How about the Panthers? Do you think ownership will just shrug it off if Cam Newton suffers a serious concussion in a late-game brawl after he led them to a stunning and legitimate upset, putting them back in the hunt inside the NFC South, or more importantly, a playoff berth?
Maybe Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees made the best point when he tweeted the following: “Ironic that our league punishes those based on conduct detrimental. Whose conduct is detrimental now?”
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.