FLOWERY BRANCH — When the Falcons take the Georgia Dome field against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, they will be elated to see familiar faces wearing black and white stripes.
With the labor impasse settled between the NFL and NFLRA, the referees will return to action around the league. Veteran officials worked the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens game Thursday night.
While the Falcons haven’t had any major calls go against them, they could feel the pain of the Green Bay Packers, who lost a game on a controversial “touchdown” call by replacement officials Monday night.
“After that call, I’m pretty happy about it,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “That was the tipping point for the fans and the players. Something had to be done, so I’m glad they were able to come to an agreement.”
For the most part, the Falcons blocked out the replacement referees. They refused to talk about them or even acknowledge that they were an issue, even when the replacements worked a scrimmage with the Tennessee Titans in Dalton.
“It never altered the way I prepared to play the game because you have to go out there and you’ve got to take care of your half, and hopefully they can take care of their half as replacement refs,” Gonzalez said. “Now, it’s moot, and we can move on.”
Most are still perplexed by the play at the end of the Green Bay-Seattle game.
“It was one of those things where you could see both sides of the argument,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “From the Packers’ side you could see that Jennings had 90 percent control of the ball. But on the other side you can see how they kind of thought it was a simultaneous catch. It just depends on whether perception is reality.”
To some degree, bad calls are a part of the game each week. But the replacement refs’ inability to manage the game almost boiled over in the Falcons’ game against Denver on Sept. 17.
The replacement refs had three calls on the field overturned, and there was a six-minute delay on a routine play in the first quarter.
“It’s one less thing that people can harp on during the week,” DeCoud said. “Once the regular refs get here, it will be great to get that out of the way.”
Denver coach John Fox ($30,000) and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio ($25,000) were fined for their treatment of the officials that night.
“Obviously, the games were slowed down,” Gonzalez said. “In that game that we played on Monday night, it was like four hours and whatever it was. It was one of the longest games that I’ve ever played in.”
The players expect the officials to be well-received.
“It happened,” Gonzalez said. “It’s over. We’re going to go play. I’m sure these refs are going to come in here and get a standing ovation when they show up. I’m glad that it’s over and we can get back to playing the game how it’s supposed to be played. …
“It will be good to see those familiar faces. I know those guys. I’ll welcome them back. I’ll be glad to see them.”
In addition to better calls and proper management of the game, the players feel safer with the officials.
“Basically, the officials are considered our first responders to our injuries on the field,” said right tackle Tyson Clabo, the team’s NFLPA representative. “They are trained to identify concussions and things of that nature. Those guys that are trained to do those things are back, and [NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith] feels that the field is a safer place.”
Center Todd McClure doesn’t want to make a fuss about the officials.
“That video that they show of [Fox and Del Rio] and of course the Green Bay-Seattle game [may have led to the end of the impasse],” McClure said. “I think it’s time to move on.”
Safety William Moore is just ready to keep on playing.
“We are not going out there with that on our minds, but it’s going to play a big part,” Moore said. “That was one of those small things that came up in the previous games. Hopefully, the games won’t be as long as they’ve been.”