The first quarter of Monday night's Atlanta-Denver game was perhaps the longest 60 minutes in NFL history, and not because Peyton Manning threw three interceptions.
The mistakes and hesitations by the replacement officials were far worse as fights broke out during the chaotic six-minute delay the refs needed to sort out a fumble recovery.
Three calls were overturned in the first half and players and coaches complained bitterly that illegal contact downfield was overlooked if not outrightly ignored by the officiating crew.
Here's a sampling of the critiques and calls for the NFL to settle immediately with the regular officials, before the league suffers irreparable harm:
From Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla:
Hey, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. We beg you to stop this madness before there's a riot on the field among angry, 300-pound men in helmets.
Kiss and make up with the real game officials.
Life is too short for bad football. And the NFL is too dangerous to be policed by officials without a clue.
Never thought I'd say it, but: Gosh, do I miss Ed Hochuli.
In the name of integrity, you've got to stop the madness, Mr. Goodell.
From Michael David Smith, at Pro Football Talk:
Players came off the bench to get into the scrum. Coaches came off the sideline to get involved. Players were getting in officials’ faces and yelling at them, and in some cases putting their hands on the officials. The officials seemed totally overwhelmed and unsure how to restore order.
In the end, only one player (Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards, whom the referee referred to as “93 red”) was penalized, and no one was ejected. It’s a mystery why other players weren’t penalized. In particular, why wasn’t Broncos center J.D. Walton ejected for grabbing an official and pulling him away from the pile?
From Redskins linebacker Chris Wilson, expressing concern to USA Today after Sunday's chippy game against St. Louis nearly deteriorate into a brawl:
"I think the frustration has grown. If it escalates, you're talking about fistfights."
But the NFL hasn't shown any sign of recognizing it has a problem. In an e-mail to USA Today, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote: "Officiating is never perfect. The current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure.