The regular NFL officials returned to action, and the ending of their first game was eerily familiar to the one that hastened the exit of the replacement refs.
This time, however, there were no replays or arguments at the end. Just another win by the Baltimore Ravens over the visiting Cleveland Browns, 23-16 on Thursday night.
If not for two failed desperation passes into the end zone in the closing seconds, the returning officials might have had to work overtime on their first night back.
Cleveland began its final drive with 1:05 to go on its own 10. Rookie Brandon Weeden moved the Browns to the Baltimore 33 before a fourth-down pass into the end zone fell incomplete. But a personal foul penalty on Baltimore linebacker Paul Kruger gave winless Cleveland one more chance.
That pass sailed out of the end zone.
“Too much juice,” Weeden lamented.
The final sequence was not unlike the controversial ending of Monday night’s Green Bay-Seattle game, when a Hail Mary pass was ruled a touchdown. That play, and the furor it created, hastened negotiations that brought the regular officials back.
The lockout ended late Wednesday, bringing about the exit of the unpopular replacement refs. And so, finally, the tenured officials were in place for Week 4.
“I felt so bad for that Green Bay situation,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said. “Replacement refs, their families, I can’t knock them. The scrutiny they were under. That kind of scrutiny is bad. It’s hard going from like Pop Warner to the big leagues.”
As they walked onto the field hours before this game, the officiating crew received a round of applause and shouts of encouragement from fans in the lower sections.
And then, before the pregame coin flip, referee Gene Steratore greeted the players at midfield by saying, “Good evening, men, it’s good to be back.”
Many in the sellout crowd of 70,944 stood and roared their approval.
“Welcome back to the officials. Good to have them back,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “These guys are really good. The communication was good. I didn’t agree with every call, but they were excellent.”
Joe Flacco went 28 for 46 for 356 yards, threw one touchdown and ran for another. Yet, it wasn’t until Cary Williams returned an interception 63 yards for a score at the end of the third quarter that the Ravens (3-1) put some distance between themselves and the young Browns (0-4).
Around the league
The Patriots released tight end Kellen Winslow after just one game. Winslow had been cut in training camp by the Seahawks after spending five seasons with the Browns and three with the Buccaneers. … John Lynch, Michael Strahan, Steve McNair and Morten Andersen are among 13 first-year eligible players for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.