Safety M.D. Jennings was asked about his place in history on Thursday, if he’s being called the player who ended the officials’ lockout.
“I wouldn’t say that one play ended it,” the soft-spoken and somewhat shy Jennings said of the Hail Mary he thought he intercepted in Seattle on Monday night. “It was eventually going to end regardless. I’m not going to say one play ended the lockout.”
Maybe not, but it was definitively the last play of 2012, and presumably the next eight years, with replacement officials. The league and the officials’ union reached a long-term agreement on Wednesday night, and the regular officials are set to return for games this week, beginning with Baltimore’s home game against Cleveland on Thursday.
Reaction in the Packers locker room to the news was a mixture of relief and bemusement. The former because the rest of the season won’t be subject to sub-standard officiating; the latter because there’s no denying the role Monday’s fiasco had in a settlement, no matter what is said elsewhere.
“As long as things were going smooth, they were probably going to keep them locked out,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “But that was between the NFL and the officials.”
Added guard T.J. Lang: “The NFL said they were close all along in negotiations. I think we’d like to believe that. But with all the outrage that did come out of Monday’s game, I can imagine that it probably put a little more pressure on them. We’re glad that’s done with and we can carry on.”
Lang, of course, was one of the more outspoken players, taking to Twitter immediately after Monday night’s loss with a series of salty tweets regarding the league and the officiating that attracted national attention.
Lang wouldn’t go so far as to say the Twitter-verse played a role in the negotiating process, but he did reiterate he felt it was important for players to speak out.
“I wish I could have certainly rephrased my words a little better, but I think my emotions definitely got the best of me,” Lang said. “I don’t regret saying anything or coming out and standing up for my team and my teammates. Thankfully, a deal got done. We’re all happy about that.
“It’s not the reason I did it. I just wanted to express my emotions about it. I was happy a lot of guys spoke up about it. It’s never fun losing a game like that.”
The next question is how ready the regular officials will be to get back to work right away without their usual preparation in training camps and preseason games.
Mike McCarthy said he can’t be concerned about that and is going to continue to emphasize that his players play the game the right way, which he’s done all along. The team will continue its usual practice of going over a scouting report on every crew that’s assigned to its games, to discuss tendencies and such.
Multiple players commented that they saw, either during games or on film, opponents taking liberties with the rules and pushing the envelope with the replacement officials in charge. Whether or not the game cleans up immediately remains to be seen, but Sam Shields sounded confident the next time he’s pushed in the back on a deep ball, it’ll get called.
“There were a lot of bad calls, but it was nothing we could control,” said Shields, who was also flagged for a phantom pass interference in the fourth quarter on a long pass that he appeared to play perfectly, with proper inside position on receiver Sidney Rice. “Whatever calls they come up with, we just have to handle it the right way.”
The fans could be another matter, of course.
“People are still going to boo them, people are still going to complain about them,” Nelson said. “But I think as players we just hope the flow of the game is better, so there’s not as many delays and the obvious calls get made the way they’re supposed to.”
The term “obvious” took on a whole new meaning the last three weeks for some, and certainly Monday night for the Packers. To say the lockout ended too late to help the Packers when they needed it most is obvious, but the return of the regular officials is being heartily welcomed.
“It’s not too late,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “They’re back. We’re just happy they’re back now. Things get back to normal.
“It probably speeded it up, but this needed to get done a long time ago. They got it done now. We’re happy about it and just moving forward.” Additional coverage - Sept. 27