With a few hours to sleep on it, Green Bay Packers players were still livid Tuesday over Monday night's 14-12 loss at the Seattle Seahawks, offering blunt and direct criticism of the NFL, its administration of the replacement official program and its motives for not adequately addressing the problem.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the way with a nearly-seven minute rant to start off his weekly radio show at ESPN 540 in Milwaukee. Guard Josh Sitton said he would go on strike if the NFL's collective bargaining agreement allowed it and guard T.J. Lang encouraged more players to speak out.
Rodgers began by apologizing to fans of the game -- "something the NFL is not going to do," he said. Rodgers added: "The product that is on the field is not being complemented by an appropriate set of officials. The games are getting out of control. ... The game is being tarnished by an NFL that obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished a little bit."
I know we're not that far away from the ugliness of the NFL player lockout of 2011, when players and commissioner Roger Goodell regularly exchanged labor-related public barbs. But in my career covering the NFL, I've rarely heard players speak so directly about their distrust and disregard for the league office.
Tuesday, Rodgers offered a paragraph-by-paragraph dissection of the NFL's explanation for Golden Tate's 24-yard touchdown reception on a play that Packers safety M.D. Jennings appeared to make an interception. Rodgers said "I call bull" on the NFL's claim that replacement officials communicated on the field before making a final decision and said it "was garbage" that referee Wayne Elliott didn't notice one of Tate's arms losing contact with the ball as the players crashed to the ground.
"We put so much into this," Rodgers said, "and we put our bodies and livelihood on the line, and you can't possibly tell me that the way things are going right now that player safety is being held to the same standard that it was, and the integrity of the game wasn't what it was."
Sitton, meanwhile, said on the Jim Rome radio show (via the Green Bay Press-Gazette) that "I don't think [the NFL] cares" about the repercussions of replacement officials.
"They know the type of business we have and they know fans are going to keep showing up," Sitton said. "There needs to be something done. I wish I had an answer. If I could go on strike, I … would just to end this crap. I don't know if we can. We probably can’t because of the CBA, but I wish there was an answer. I don't think they care. They flat-out don't care."
Sitton pointed to an ugly incident between Packers receiver Greg Jennings and Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner as an example of how replacement officials can't ensure player safety. Browner leveled Jennings unexpectedly at the end of a deep route and went unpenalized until the two engaged in an extended wrestling match in the end zone.
"They've been talking about player safety and clearly with the replacement refs, honestly it's really not their fault," Sitton said. "They're not experienced enough, I can't express that enough, but the safety of the players right now is out the window. You see the play last night where Greg Jennings gets … ran over, 20 yards down the field, and they don't end up throwing the flag until after he throws a punch. It's getting ridiculous, but I don’t think they’re going to do anything about it."
Lang, who started an avalanche of criticism Monday night on Twitter told reporters in Green Bay: "I think we’ve gotten to a point where if we don't take a stand, nothing's going to happen. We'd just be letting these refs ruin games. The NFL doesn't give a crap. They're still making money. People are still coming to the games. There needs to be more players who speak out to really put pressure on the NFL to try to get something done."
I'm fine with Packers players using Tuesday, their day off, to continue venting about this unprecedented situation. Wednesday, they'll need to move on and begin preparing for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. Let's put it this way: Nothing anyone could say Tuesday would make the situation any worse.