NEW YORK — The furor over the work of replacement officials reached something of a fevered pitch during Week 3 in the NFL, when even deciphering downs and distance became a challenge.
As Sunday’s games were going on, the league and the NFL Referees Association met to discuss the lockout. Perhaps a sign of the growing urgency of the situation, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was personally involved in the last three rounds of negotiations, all last week, according to ESPN.
The report said the sides agreed to keep talking, but “significant differences” remained in their attempt to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The NFL locked out the officials in June after their contract expired.
The New York Times reported that the league sent a memo to all teams in which Jeff Pash, the NFL’s general counselor and lead negotiator, that said the league was willing to make “reasonable” compromises in the financial negotiations in exchange for operational changes in the CBA.
The memo cited the officials’ union’s request for a “ratification bonus” to help make up for lost wages from the lockout. The officials are also willing to work on a six-year deal instead of the seven-year commitment it previously sought.
In closing the memo, Pash wrote, “We recognize that the current officials are under unprecedented scrutiny, and we are committed to do all we can to help them continue to improve. In the meantime, we will be available to resume negotiations with the union to reach a fair agreement as soon as possible.’’
Also on Sunday, the NFL players’ union sent an open letter to team owners calling for an end to the lockout. The letter emphasized what the players feel is a lack of an unsafe working environment caused by the replacement officials.
While on-field team personnel became more vocal with the backup officials during Week 3 — something the NFL has warned will result in fines — one TV analyst Sunday night called it the substitute-teacher syndrome: See how much you can get away with before the real thing returns.
‘‘Nature says for us that we’re going to go out there and push the limit regardless,’’ Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. ‘‘If they’re calling a game tight, if they’re calling a game loose, it’s going to be pushed to the limit. You are pushing it to the brink. If things are going to be called easier, and in some situations I feel like they've been less lenient, too, you've just got to play and see how [it’s being called].’’
Most of the coaches are being careful what they say about the replacements, but the players and broadcasters are less inhibited.
‘‘Unfortunately, I feel like that it’s like changing an intersection from a stop sign to a red light,’’ Browns kicker Phil Dawson said. ‘‘You have to have so many car wrecks before they deem that intersection to be dangerous enough — and we’re heading that way. Someone’s going to lose a game, if it hasn’t already happened, to get both sides to a pressure point to get a deal done. It’s sad.’’
Certainly not holding back on the criticism are some of the NFL’s broadcast partners. Analyst Cris Collinsworth was forthright in his evaluation of the officiating problems Sunday night, as were Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden during last Monday night’s flag-fest in Atlanta.
‘‘We don’t want to talk about the officials, trust us,’’ ESPN’s Tirico said. ‘‘But it’s affecting the game. When we meet with teams and coordinators, frustration boils out into limited on-the-record statements. Off the record, what guys are saying — it’s a nightmare. It is impacting the game.
‘‘There are so many little things that players are getting away with that is absolutely impacting the game to the detriment of the product.’’