The NFL's use of replacement referees this season, while its usual officials are locked out amid a labor dispute, reached a boiling point on Monday night when a questionable call gave the Seattle Seahawks a last-second win over the Green Bay Packers. Visceral reactions from players involved in that game burned up Twitter and talk radio. Players around the league also took notice.
In an interview Tuesday with SB Nation, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald commented on the difficulty of the situation and its broader impact on the sport itself.
"You worry about the integrity of the game, and making sure that's not being compromised along with player safety," said Fitzgerald. "Last night was tough because it was clearly an interception, and my opinion is the same as a lot of other people that were watching the game yesterday."
Written off a month ago, Fitzgerald's 3-0 Cardinals are the perfect example of the league's remarkable parity and competitive play. Clock errors, endless reviews and blown calls threaten to undermine the NFL's level playing field:
"As a player," he continued, "it makes it extremely tough because I know how much work and time you put into game planning and then go out there and try to be successful on any given Sunday.
"You try not to think about it as a player because you've got a job to do. But I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't something we talk about from time to time. It's nothing that we can control as players."
Most of the Tuesday morning quarterbacking centered on officials playing an out-sized role in the box score. A statement released by the NFLPA tried to put concerns about player safety back into the conversation.
"The decision by the NFL owners to lockout the referees jeopardizes your health and safety," NFLPA executive direction DeMaurice Smith said in the statement. "This decision to remove over 1,500 years of collective experience has simply made the workplace less safe."
Fitzgerald echoed those concerns.
"Player safety is a key issue," he said. "Protecting the guys and making sure there's nothing illegal going on out there.
"I haven't noticed anything personally, but I've heard other guys say that there's been a little bit of that out there," Fitzgerald said when asked if players were trying to get away with more under replacement officials.
Meanwhile, the NFL met with locked out officials from the NFL Referees Association on Tuesday amid growing concerns about fans being turned off by what they see on the field.
"I just want the integrity of the game to stand the way it's been,' said Fitzgerald. "The reason fans watch the game is because they know that what they're going to see out there is the best competition and play in the world. I want fans to continue to believe in that product.
"I don't want the game to be smeared by bad calls."
This story originally appeared on SBNation.com.