|The replacement refs weren't perfect on Wednesday night, but they did more than fine in their debut. (Getty)|
This is what a Giants player told me this week when asked about the replacement officials:
"We're going to try and take advantage of the fact they're on national television and probably scared s---less," the player said. "Every player and every staff will do the same as the games go on. We're going to try and intimidate them. Again, every team will try it."
And this is likely what many players, coaches and others think of the replacements: they see them as dupes to get over on.
|More on Cowboys-Giants|
But were they in the first game of the season? A game where possibly no group of replacements would face more pressure: opening night; two historic franchises; defending Super Bowl champs; two division rivals; on the big stage of New York.
Were the replacements as horrid as everyone expected?
Any fair-minded person would say this. The replacements made mistakes but they weren't horrible. They were just fine. They were actually more than fine.
They were sloppy at times, like when one gave the wrong sign for delay of game. They missed obvious calls but they also got a bunch right.
In fact, they got most of them right.
This game was pivotal because it could possibly determine how the remaining talks between the real officials and the NFL will go. Quite simply, if the replacements perform modestly or even well, the NFL will win this fight. If they do not, the locked out officials have the leverage.
This round--again, if you're fair--goes to the replacements.
Fake refs 1, Real refs 0.
The replacements blended in without going gutless and not making calls. This was the biggest surprise of all. This is also the nightmare of the real officials.
Here is how Replacement Night went:
First play of the game: A deep pass to Hakeem Nickswas incomplete. Players on the Giants sideline began complaining immediately for a pass interference call even though it wasn't close. Does that happen with the regulars? Sure. But on the first play of the game? No. That's exactly what the Giants player was talking about.
First quarter, third and 15: obvious dropped pass. Replacement official right there. Got it right. Yeah, it was obvious.
First quarter, 12:09 left: First penalty called, blocking low on kick return. Two problems. The call was clipping except replays clearly showed that, if anything, it was a block in the back. Also, official didn't announce number. Just said return team.
First quarter, about 10 minutes left: refs miss an obvious pick play. How obvious was it? "That was a nice little pick play right there! #Giants," tweeted Joe Namath.
First quarter, about five minutes left: false start on Dallas. Replacements nailed it.
Another false start, this time on Jason Witten. Again, replacements nailed it.
A short time later, Tony Romorolls away from a blitzer, and almost runs into one of the refs, who looked out of position.
The first quarter came and went and the replacements made basically one egregious error. But they weren't the story. That's what the NFL wanted.
Second quarter--Victor Cruzhad his jersey held. Clear interference. No call.
(Quick word on that. In two decades of covering the sport, the one call real officials screw up the most, by far, are pass interference penalties.)
Near the two minute warning: catch by Dez Bryantnear the sideline, close call, but replacements correctly rule it a grab.
The first half ends and we weren't talking about the replacements ruining it.
Third quarter: Tick, tick, tick and no majorly missed calls or bad mistakes.
Until the nine minute mark when Victor Cruz was called for a block in the back. Replays showed Cruz barely touched the Dallas player.
Third quarter, about seven minutes left: one official signaled third down for the Giants while another signaled first. Oops.
But again, no game-changing mistakes. Not even close.
Fourth quarter: Cowboys called for roughing the passer on Eli Manning. Close call but probably legit.
Later, NBC's Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth chuckle at the replacements when replacements called a penalty for 12-men on the field on the Giants but player got off in plenty of time. But here's the thing: the replacements realized their mistake and corrected the call.
The fourth quarter saw an increase in flags thrown by the replacements but the calls were mostly justified. One was an illegal hands to the face by a Giants player that was dead on.
There was also a pass interference call on the Cowboys around the three-minute mark that was also a good call.
Now, it is true, the NFL put its best replacements on this huge game. Still, they were supposed to fail.
They didn't. Not even close.