Grading the NFL Referees in Their First Game Back

Chris TrapassoAnalyst ISeptember 28, 2012

September 27, 2012;Baltimore, MD, USA; NFL referee Gene Steratore prior to the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

The Ravens weren't the only group greeted by a standing ovation in Baltimore on Thursday night. 

Gene Steratore and his crew of regular referees caused quite the positive stir inside M&T Bank Stadium prior to the Ravens' AFC North battle with the Cleveland Browns. 

So, how did they do in their highly anticipated first game back? 

There were 18 penalties called (11 on Baltimore, seven on Cleveland), and none appeared to be even close to egregious nor were they met with any disagreement from either sideline. 

The flow of the game was noticeably different in this Week 4 matchup, as well. There weren't any long, unnecessary delays—ones that became all too familiar with the replacement referees on the field. 

The incompetence vanished. 

However, Steratore and his crew didn't cruise through the game without being tested. 

Josh Cribbs was knocked unconscious on a kickoff return near the end of the first quarter and fumbled the football. After the play, special teamers from the Browns and Ravens got into a little tussle. 

But the regular officials were succinct in their action and stopped the chippiness before it escalated into a widespread scuffle between multiple players. 

Also, Steratore went under the hood and correctly deemed that Cribbs indeed had fumbled. A job well done. 

Also in the first quarter, a tiny skirmish broke out on a Trent Richardson run that yielded no yards. After some pushing and shoving, the regular referees kept the game clean and avoided any major fight between the rivals. 

The rest of the game went relatively smoothly, and the pace of play was back to normal, which in large part was due to the presence of regular referees who were confident in their calls and demonstrated a keen understanding of the rule book. 

The only sprinkle of controversy came in the fourth quarter, but it was a far cry from what we've seen through three weeks in the NFL

Brandon Weeden was flagged for intentional grounding, and Browns head coach Pat Shurmur was hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty for coming onto the field to argue—a strong message reminding everyone what the regular officials will not tolerate. 

At the end of the game, the NFL and its fans dealt with deja vu from the Seattle Seahawks fiasco when the Browns attempted a Hail Mary. After the eerily similar pass landed incomplete in the end zone, Steratore called a personal foul on defensive lineman Paul Kruger, who clearly shoved offensive tackle Joe Thomas to the ground for no reason while the ball was in the air. 

It was a flag the Ravens wished Steratore kept in his pocket, but technically, it was the correct decision. 

After the regular officials' triumphant and efficient return, the real NFL is back. 

Grade: A-