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National Columnist

The real officials are back ... is that such a good thing?

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Deja vu? Mike McCarthy and the Packers deal with bad game officiating for the second straight week. (AP)  
Deja vu? Mike McCarthy and the Packers deal with bad game officiating for the second straight week. (AP)  

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay defeated New Orleans 28-27 on Sunday in a game witnessed by a crowd of 70,571-- and missed by the officiating crew of seven.

This game was great. These officials were terrible. But soon the real officials will be back and ... oh, right. These are the real officials. And they let us know before the coin flip, too, when referee Jeff Triplette pandered to the crowd by announcing to the team captains -- and to the stadium -- "It's great to get back, gentlemen."

The crowd was roaring.

Soon, they were booing.

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The right team won, but the officials got it wrong -- making this game closer than it should have been, even giving the Saints a late possession they didn't deserve, a possession that actually saw the Saints kick a go-ahead 43-yard field goal, only to have it nullified by a penalty. New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley then missed from 48 yards with 2 minutes, 54 seconds remaining, and the Packers ran out the clock.

That possession followed a touchdown by the Packers, quarterback Aaron Rodgers overcoming a scratched eye to drive Green Bay into the end zone, capping it with a 12-yard scoring pass to Jordy Nelson. That made it 28-27 with seven minutes left, and on the ensuing kickoff Saints return man Darren Sproles fumbled.

But the officials missed it. They said Sproles was down before losing the ball, a call that didn't make much sense in real time and made absolutely no sense after one glance at the replay. Problem is, the Packers had used their final challenge protesting a Saints completion earlier in the half, when New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham lost control of the ball as he went down, the ball wedged between his body and the ground, a classic incompletion that was ruled a catch in real time and then upheld, somehow, by the replay official.

That's the backdrop for the fumble on the kickoff return, a call the officials missed and the Packers couldn't challenge, much to the chagrin of the guy who caused the fumble and recovered it, Packers linebacker Dezman Moses.

"I thought it was pretty clear," Moses said. "I guess not."

The Saints' first touchdown of the game, a 20-yard pass from Drew Brees to Marques Colston, had a similarly blown call. Colston shoved the nearest defender, safety Morgan Burnett, to the ground before making the easy catch. Burnett looked stunned that there was no call. The crowd sounded furious. In the locker room afterward, Burnett told me he hadn't flopped, that Colston had knocked him to the ground.

"I got pushed, no question," Burnett said. "I couldn't dwell on it."

Yeah, well, I could. And I did. You've read this story this far, so you know how appalled I am at the officiating Sunday. What you don't know is that I tried to talk to the officials, these men who have been given ovations in NFL stadiums across the country, treated as conquering heroes saving us from the abject failure of the replacement refs. That's the storyline, and it's garbage. The replacement refs were bad, yes. But the real officials aren't much better, as so many games over the years have shown, and as the Packers' 28-27 victory against the Saints on Sunday proved again.

Neither side was happy with the officials. Not the Packers, who were so much better than the Saints that they could, and did, beat them and the refs. Rodgers threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns, his first game of 2012 that resembled his MVP form of 2011. It's no coincidence that it came against the Saints, who tumbled to 0-4 thanks to a disastrous defense that can be blamed only so much on the absence of offensive-minded head coach Sean Payton.

The Saints weren't happy with the officials, either, considering their go-ahead field goal in the final three minutes was nullified by a penalty against a player whose identity wasn't announced to the crowd, as is the protocol, and whose identity wasn't made clear to acting Saints coach Aaron Kromer either. The Saints got into field-goal position thanks to Brees, whose 446 passing yards included an 80-yard gimme to wide-open Joseph Morgan late in the third quarter and then a 6-yard fourth-down conversion to Lance Moore on the drive that led to the nullified, and then the missed, field goals. The official statistics identified tight end David Thomas as the guilty party on the holding, but I wanted to hear it from the officials themselves.

When I got to their locker room there were five men sitting outside, all five looking at me in something approaching disbelief as I asked to speak to the officials inside. The sign on the door read, "Positively No Visitors," so going inside was out of the question. Would one of the officials come out and speak to me? That's what I asked the five men standing guard outside. One went in to check, then came back out:

"It's not proper right now," he said. "They're about to get in the shower."

I'll wait, I said.

The guy stared at me. Went back into the locker room. Came out with a different story:

"They're going over every penalty," he said. "I don't how long it will be."

I'll wait, I said.

The guy stared some more. Then went back in. And out came a different story:

"Are you the pool reporter?"

Nope.

"We're not talking unless you're the pool reporter."

And that was that. No interviews granted by the professionals inside that room, men who next season will earn an average salary of $173,000, men who missed an offensive pass interference on a touchdown and a lost fumble on a kickoff return -- in a one-point game.

The real officials are back.

I miss the replacement refs.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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