Order returns to gridiron: NFL referees receive cheers, hugs, and standing Os
The NFL's lockout of referees ended with the Baltimore Ravens' 23-16 win over the Browns. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis hugged one referee. 50,000 fans stood and applauded the referees' return.
No one is complaining that the refs cost the Cleveland Browns the game. That mere fact is a major victory for the NFL and the seven-man crew led by referee Gene Steratore, who brought official harmony back to the nation's most popular league.Skip to next paragraph
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Cheered from the moment they walked onto the field, the men in stripes ran a smooth and efficient game Thursday night as the NFL's lockout of officials came to an end with the Baltimore Ravens' 23-16 win over the Browns.
"To just be applauded by 50,000 people prior to anything happening, it was something that kind of chokes you up," Steratore said. "It was a very special feeling."
Sure, there were calls that made both sides unhappy. Browns coach Pat Shurmur drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing an intentional grounding call, and Ravens left tackle Michael Oher could be heard raising all kinds of beef about a holding call.
But, overall, the officials kept the game in control, curtailing the chippy play and choppy pace — not to mention the inconsistent calls — that had marred the three weeks of games with replacement officials.
"It was great to have those guys back," Ravens running back Ray Rice said. "It looked like they knew what they were doing."
An agreement to end the lockout was reached late Wednesday after marathon negotiations, two days after a "Monday Night Football" finish brought debate over the use of the replacements to a fevered pitch nationwide.
That game ended when a 24-yard desperation pass on the last play was ruled a touchdown — even though replays appeared to show it should have been an interception — giving the Seattle Seahawks a disputed 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
The stage was set for something eerily similar Thursday. A fourth-down unnecessary roughness penalty on Baltimore's Paul Kruger — a good call, given the way he shoved Cleveland's Joe Thomas after the whistle — gave the Browns one final play from the 18-yard line.
But Brandon Weeden's 18-yard pass sailed high as time expired. No controversial ending this time.
"I thought they handled (the game) great," Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur said. "I had all the confidence in the world that this was going to be officiated in the right way."
The newfound love for the refs was evident all evening.