If there is one word the NFL likes to hold above all others, it is integrity. All of the players and employees throughout the league understand that. So Mathias Kiwanuka likely knew exactly where he was thrusting the dagger when he weighed in on the impact that the replacement officials are having on the sport through two weeks.
"There's no doubt the integrity of the game has been compromised," he said.
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That seems to sum up the growing sentiment not only in the Giants' locker room but around the league. As the Giants prepare for their game Thursday night against the Panthers, they know that the two teams will not be the only ones under the microscope of a national broadcast. The officials, too, will be subject to great scrutiny and likely a topic of conversation just as they were Tuesday following a prime-time game between the Broncos and the Falcons on Monday in which they very nearly lost control and certainly impacted the flow of a game that trickled into Tuesday Morning Football.
"I'm not necessarily mad at the replacement officials," Justin Tuck said. "I'm more upset with the NFL for not handling this and taking care of this in due time I guess . . . I think with all the success that this league is having, you don't want this to be a damper."
"I'll be honest," McCoy told 94WIP, "they're like fans. One of the refs was talking about his fantasy team, like: 'McCoy, come on, I need you for my fantasy.' "
Some have even been exposed as fans. Brian Stropolo, a replacement side judge, was removed from working the Saints-Panthers game because his Facebook page included pictures of him decked out in Saints gear. Stropolo wound up working the Giants-Bucs game.
"I saw a guy basically walk Victor Cruz like he was a dog," Phillips said. "He had his jersey the whole way up the field and they didn't call anything . . . It was bad."
Not all of the implications of replacement refs are as silly, certainly not to the players. Injuries are becoming a major concern for the players, particularly when it comes to enforcing hits on defenseless players, something the NFL has stressed in recent years.
"I think it's inevitable [that an injury will occur]," Kiwanuka said. "That's the unfortunate reality, that the longer you extend that leash the more people are going to take it. We wouldn't have refs out there if we didn't need them. We need the regular guys to come back."
The league has said that the replacement officials have "made great strides" and are "performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure."
That's certainly something players can relate to. But even they seem to have their limits. Particularly when it comes to their well-being.
"I don't think you can levy tens of thousands of dollars, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in a week against players, talking about player safety this, player safety that, and not have it be officials who can account for it," Kiwanuka said.
Still, some take the approach Tom Coughlin outlined Tuesday, that it is not something he can control so it is not something he focuses on. And the Giants are hardly the only victims here. Phillips, who griped about the holding on Cruz, said he expects to get fined for Sunday's hit on Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson. That hit, however, was not penalized on the field.
"I peeked around just because," Phillips said of expecting to see yellow on the field. "Whenever you see a big hit, the flag usually comes out. No matter if it was a legal hit or an illegal hit, the flag's gonna come."
Later, with a coy smile, he added: "I think the replacement referee did a great job of not throwing the flag."