The Replacement Referee Era officially ended with Thursday night's matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Ravens in Baltimore.
Gone are the days of criticism, skepticism, and questioning every call the referees make...sort of. Either way, fans are now able to watch games with a little less reason to get angry and players are able to do what they are paid to do without the worry of failing due to reasons that are out of their hands. And more importantly, exceptional performances will replace blown calls on headlines across America.
With that being said, and 14 beautiful weeks of regular season football left to enjoy with veteran referees, it's time to take a look back on five of the worst instances of this disgraceful period in NFL history.
5. Sept. 23: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Low point: Referees grant San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh two invalid video challenges after a fourth quarter timeout.
It was hard to pick a No. 5 since there are a good number of other games where the refs didn't necessarily blow the game, but embarrassed themselves nonetheless (Redskins v. Rams just to name one). But more than some of the others, this officiating mess highlighted the lack of confidence these replacement referees had in themselves and the calls they were making.
In their defense, the refs did have to deal with one of the most excitable coaches in the league in Jim Harbaugh, but no self-respecting ref should ever be intimidated to the point where a coach convinces them to hand out extra challenges.
The referees didn't blow this game. The Vikings won this game, behind probably Christian Ponder's best NFL performance to date (a solid 198 yards, two touchdowns and no picks) and some handy David Akers field goals, but they didn't make it the easiest to watch.
4. Sept. 23: Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders
Low point: No flag is thrown on a helmet-to-helmet hit on Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was a defenseless receiver.
This game was a tough one to swallow for the Steelers. Take away the game-winning field goal as time expired for the Raiders, and there was still a lot to be upset about, especially with the referees.
A pick 6 being called back on a very questionable roughing the passer call on James Harrison, the lack of a call for the blatant face mask grabbing of Mike Wallace in the end zone, and an overall 14 flags against Pittsburgh held back a Steelers team that should have had a much easier time against the Raiders.
But still, the worst moment of the game came on the flagless hit against Heyward-Bey in the end zone that led to his carting off the field. Obviously, a latter penalty wouldn't have prevented the hit on Heyward-Bey, but simply allowing a dangerous hit like that to go unpunished is an embarrassment for a league so "dedicated" to player safety.
3. Sept. 17: Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons
Low point: Lack of control over the game leads to no control of sideline-clearing confrontations between players after a Knowshon Moreno fumble.
One of the worst aspects of games officiated by replacements was that they took forever. The Monday night Broncos-Falcons matchup was one of the most blatant examples of that with a first half that took a little over two hours, all because the officials had no control over the game.
The lack of control was evident throughout the game, which was filled with delayed and overturned calls and was ultimately represented by the on-field skirmish. It was a mess, took more than five minutes to clear up, and, when all was said and done, only one flag was thrown.
There were a few other instances comparable to the mess in Atlanta, but the disarray being on full display on a Monday night just made the situation that much worse.
2. Sept. 23: New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens
Low point: Questionable to ridiculous holding and interference calls extend Baltimore drives, assisting in their comeback; John Harbaugh is called with unsportsmanlike conduct for trying to call a timeout.
Joe Flacco engineered some terrific drives to lead the Ravens to their bizarre one-point win, but at times, the referees were the only reasons those drives were able to continue. It all culminated in one of the hardest field goal calls of all time that, to their defense, the refs probably got right.
But there are two main problems with the game besides this. One: If the game was called perfectly—which it wouldn't have been with the real referees either—it would not have even come down to the close field goal at the end of the game. Two: The referees were awful against Baltimore as well.
In total, 24 penalties were called throughout the game, for a total of 218 yards. Almost every single drive that had major penalties led to scoring, and almost every single call led to PG-13 jeers from the Baltimore faithful.
After the game, many were questioning whether this would prove to be the "straw that would break the NFL's back." But, as we know now, that straw wouldn't come for about 24 more hours.
1. Sept. 24: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
Low point: Do I even have to say it?
To reiterate the point that everyone has been talking about this past week, the last call made by replacement referees was one of the worst calls in NFL history for three reasons: It was wrong; they reviewed the play and still didn't realize it was wrong; and they weren't technically allowed to review the play anyways.
The Era of the Replacement Referee is over. The old referees are back, and while they're far from perfect, it's nice to know that, moving forward, the game can get back to being the game.
Players will be able to play with the knowledge that the game is back in their hands, coaches won't have to be so on edge to challenge the officials on every single player, and, miraculously, America won't be so quick to hate the referee.
Well, at least for a while.
This article can be seen on Bleacher Report