The replacement refs are gone, the real refs are back, and so there's really no reason to bring up that dark little chapter in NFL history ever again. Ever.
This past Sunday's slate of games was an excellent reminder of just how crucial effective officiating is to both the integrity and the success of the game. And while there are still bound to be a few blown calls here and there (hello, Green Bay), for the most part the refs faded into the background where they belong, and I for one couldn't be happier.
You know who else is particularly ecstatic that the refs are back? Quarterbacks - particularly the top tier of quarterbacks. Anyone who has watched games so far this season will be able to see that while Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning have all looked good, they haven't quite been their old selves. Now you can point to any number of factors as to why the NFL's elite quarterbacks have looked pedestrian at times - effective defensive planning, early season rust, communication breakdowns - but I think at the end of the day the main reason for their early struggles directly correlated to a fundamental shift in the way the game was played under the replacement refs that negatively affected each of these quarterback's primary strength: timing.
It's only a theory, and I haven't done much research to back it up, but looking at how poised, collected, and accurate Brady, Brees, Manning, and Rodgers looked this Sunday as opposed to Weeks 1-3 gives me good cause to at least open the subject up for conversation. Combined, these four players threw for 1,443 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 1 interception on Sunday, which is a significant jump from earlier in the year. When your offense is built around perfectly timed routes, knowing exactly when the holes in the defense will open, and utilizing superior on-field vision to change plays at the line based on what the defense is showing you, it isn't surprising that you are going to struggle if your receivers have to fight their way out of an armbar and avoid a few flying knees before they ever really get a chance to start running.
Obviously, this theory doesn't only apply to the best in the game, and odds are all the other quarterbacks (well, except for Tony Romo) have benefited as well, but i think it has been most apparent thus far in the disparity between Brady's comfort level with his receivers on Sunday vs. the first three weeks of the season. I'm sure I could go even deeper here and talk about how one of the main reasons that Wes Welker struggled early on was because he was never able to get his timing down after getting cavity searched at the line of scrimmage. But the bottom line is that the first three weeks of the season was a completely different game of football, and one that nobody was really used to. It may very well have been that the better you are at real football, the more you struggled with fauxball.
Look for this trend to continue, as we get the chance to see two of the best timing quarterbacks of all time square off this Sunday. The good news is that whoever comes out on top, it won't be because of the officiating.