Frustration with the NFL's replacement officials reached a fever pitch Sunday night when referee Carl Howard accidentally got in the way of a Joe Flacco pass in the end zone. Howard picked up the ball and then signaled for a touchdown, crediting himself with a key score in the Baltimore's 31-30 win.
Patriots' coach Bill Belichick immediately threw a challenge flag, but after a 17-minute conference with his fellow officials, Howard explained that the ruling on the field could not be challenged because Howard's forward progress was stopped at the time he scored the touchdown.
"It's one thing for them to not understand the rules," Belichick said. "But making up rules on the spot — rules that allow THEM to score touchdowns — is insane."
Howard normally works as a manager at a local Hardee's and serves as a volunteer referee for a pee-wee league. This was just his third NFL game, and he admitted that the nuances of the league's complex rulebook have been slow to come.
Howard's touchdown was the most egregious mistake on a night that saw the Patriots flagged twice for "excessive running" and the Ravens have a field goal waved off due to "illegal hands to the hips".
Despite cries from fans to bring back the regular officials, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended the performance of the replacements.
"Ratings are up from last year," he said, lighting a cigar with a $1,000 bill. "I see no problem with keeping the replacement officials around. In fact, anyone who questions them from now on is suspended for four games. Eight if he plays for the Steelers."
Howard denied the charge that he allowed his own touchdown because he started himself on his fantasy football team this week.
"But I did need those six points from Flacco," he added.