EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The NFL kicked off the season with replacement referees and, for the most part, nothing seemed different.
Jim Core's seven-man crew seemingly didn't make any blunders, although there were a couple of calls that both teams questioned.
Of course, that's no different than with the regular crews. Officials are questioned every game about calls and this one was no different.
The Giants probably had the biggest beef after their 24-17 loss to the Cowboys on Wednesday night.
With the game scoreless in the second quarter, Eli Manning threw a third-down pass from the Dallas 4 to Victor Cruz. Dallas defender Orlando Scandrick clearly hit Cruz early but back judge Larry Babcock declined to throw a flag.
Manning complained but to no avail.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Scandrick did more than hold Cruz, clearly hinting his receiver was mugged.
"We have people in position where they are trying to do the very best they can," Coughlin said of the officials. "We can yell and scream all we want on the sidelines but that's the nature of what we have in front of us. They try as hard as they can. They are very vocal and very easy to work with. They come and talk to you about the way the game will be controlled. That part of it is just part of the game, Anybody can miss a call."
Coughlin, however, also noted it came in a key situation and prevented the Giants from getting a first-and-goal at the 1.
Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul also felt he was held on Tony Romo's 10-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree with 1:01 left in the half, a play which gave Dallas a 7-3 lead it never lost.
Core was good though. He never stumbled explaining any play in addressing the crowd and he was absolutely correct in calling Cowboys tackle Jason Hatcher for a blow to the head against Manning in the fourth quarter.
Most of the penalties went against Dallas, which was whistled 13 times for 86 yards. The Giants were called for four penalties for 33 yards.
"No problems, just as we've been saying all along," NFL executive Ray Anderson said at halftime of the officiating:
None of the replacement officials had more than nine years' experience and only one member has worked Division I college games. The rest have handled lower divisions and other leagues.
"I would love to have the best officials on the field, but I have to look at this long-term," Commissioner Roger Goodell said when asked Wednesday afternoon about the impasse with regular officials during an hour-long forum with fans from all 32 teams.
Goodell said the league wants to increase the number of officials to give it flexibility to determine who's on the field and to spend more time training officials.
The NFL Referees Association, which covers more than 120 on-field officials, is at odds with the league over salary, retirement benefits and operational issues. The NFL has said its offer includes annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than $200,000 annually by 2018. The NFLRA has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it would ultimately reduce compensation.
"It'll get solved," Goodell insisted.
Core's replacement crew Wednesday night had Bob Shoulders as the umpire, Greg Maxwell as the head linesman, Joshua Thurow as the line judge, Thaddious Foster as the field judge, Brian Stropolo as the side judge and Babcock. Veteran NFL official Dale Hamer was the replay official.
Core worked three preseason games with a different crew. The six other members of his crew on Wednesday worked three preseason games with Jim Winterberg as the referee.
Core has eight years' experience as a referee in Division II and III, and other levels. Shoulders has six years' experience at Division I and II. Maxwell has worked five years in Division III and other levels.
Thurow is the most experienced with nine years in Division II and III. Foster has four years in Division II, Stropolo is the least experienced with three years in Division III. Babcock has five years in Division III and other levels.
The alternate was Tim Keese, who has five years' experience at Division II and other levels.
"Consistency is the most important thing with officiating," Goodell said.
The league plans to continue to evaluate every play, official by official, to see if they made the right call, Goodell promised. He also expects a bunch of calls on Monday, a day the majority of teams play.
"Officiating is not perfect, but we believe that we have the best officials and that we can get better, and that's what we're trying to do long-term," Goodell said.