|What return of regular referees means for Patriots||09.27.12 at 12:21 am ET|
The announcement that the regular referees are returning is good news for the whole league, including the Patriots.
The returning officials certainly will restore some order to the game and eliminate much of the uncertainty that dominated the league over the first three weeks of the regular season. And despite the fact that Bill Belichick adroitly steered clear of the topic when asked about it on Wednesday, the Patriots coach certainly will welcome their return for several reasons, not the least of which is that he’s unlikely to chase down a regular referee at the end of the game and pull his arm in hopes of getting his attention for an explanation of a call.
(Belichick — known as one of the more referee-friendly coaches in the league when the regular refs are working — was fined $50,000 for the incident at the conclusion of the loss to the Ravens. He issued a statement of contrition on Wednesday, apologizing for the “inappropriate” contact with the official.)
Belichick’s postgame chase aside, compared to many teams across the league — particularly the Packers — the Patriots were relatively quiet on the topic of the replacement officials. Perhaps the loudest complaint from New England came in the wake of the loss to Baltimore when linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeted about wanting to send “these [expletive] zebras” back to their jobs at Foot Locker. (To this point, Spikes has not been fined for his comments.)
Things will be easier across the league, but for the New England offense — which enjoys operating at a higher pace — the return of the officials means there will be no question as to whether or not the zebras will be able to keep up with the Patriots’ no-huddle. (Although, it’s not like New England eased off the pedal with the replacements in there — through three weeks, the Patriots have been in no-huddle for 70 of their 222 plays from scrimmage, a rate of 31.5 percent. That’s an increase from last year when they went no-huddle 25 percent of the time.)
Things also are going to be slightly easier when it comes to game-planning. Each team has a book on the regular refs, their tendencies and what sort of penalties they’re inclined to call in certain situations. With the replacements, it was pretty much impossible to know their habits as officials, being that they came from such disparate backgrounds. With the regulars back in place, the Patriots — like most other teams across the league — will be able to brief their players on the backgrounds and tendencies of the refereeing crews they will see in that week’s game.
One thing that is interesting to note is that even with their 10-penalty performance last Sunday against the Ravens — with the replacement officials — the Patriots actually had more penalties and more penalty yards assessed through three games in 2011 than this year. Through three weeks, the 2012 Patriots have been flagged for 21 penalties (15th in the league) for a total of 163 yards (20th in the league). In their first three games of the 2011 season, the Patriots were flagged for 23 penalties and 223 yards (at the time, that was good enough to tie with the Vikings for third-most in the league).
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