- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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By now, everyone has begun celebrating the news that the referee lockout is close to ending and the officials could return in time for this weekend's games. That is, everyone except the Ravens and the Browns.
Having the replacement referees handle Thursday night's game between Baltimore and Cleveland is unfair to those teams when the rest of the NFL gets the locked-out officials. Why should the Ravens and Browns get inferior (and less competent) officiating for one more game? Assuming this happens, this is just another instance of how the NFL mishandled the situation.
Replacement referees can change the outcome of a game and affect a team's record. No one needs to see another replay of the end of Monday night's game between the Packers and Seahawks to understand that. Beyond the calls that everyone is talking about, replacement officials have struggled each week with the easiest of tasks from spotting the ball to counting timeouts.
The Ravens are the last team that wants to see the replacement refs for another game. Ten days ago in Philadelphia, a questionable offensive pass interference penalty on Jacoby Jones played a part in the Ravens losing by one point. Last Sunday, the Ravens were penalized 14 times for 135 yards in their win over the Patriots.
"The NFL and everybody always talk about the integrity of the game. I think this is kind of along those lines," quarterback Joe Flacco said after the loss to the Eagles on Sept. 16.
How the NFL handles the return of the locked-out officials is another issue that speaks to the integrity of the game. The league should either have the locked-out officials in place Thursday night or wait until Week 5 to do so. This won't be a popular stance, but it's a fair one.