Zulgad: Vikings coach doesn't want players focused on replacement refs
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- While reports swirled Wednesday that the NFL and the NFL Referees Association was close to an agreement to end the lockout of the regular officials, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier attempted to focus on things he could control.
Frazier has refused to bite on any questions regarding the replacement officials. That is in part because he could face a fine from the NFL, but also because he has made it clear to his team that he doesn't want them wasting time on something that could qualify as an excuse.
"We've discussed it in our meetings," Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. "It's not something we need to dwell on. The fact of the matter is, 'Go out there and play football and don't put yourself in situations to leave it up to the refs.' That's anytime. That's with regular refs, that's with the replacement refs. It doesn't matter.
"You don't want to put yourself in those situations, and for us it's about going out there and just playing ball and getting after that. All that other stuff you can't concentrate (on) because if you do it's going to affect you the next play and the play after that and all the way into the fourth quarter. You don't want that."
The replacement officials have been heavily criticized for their work the past two weeks, with the biggest outcry coming Monday night when what appeared to be a last-second interception by Packers safety M.D. Jennings ended up being ruled a game-winning touchdown for Seattle's Golden Tate.
That was interesting for Vikings players to watch.
On one hand, their arch-rival had just suffered a stunning defeat to drop to 1-2 on the season. On the other, it easily could have been the Vikings on the wrong end of that call. In fact, one day earlier, replacement referee Ken Roan had awarded the San Francisco 49ers two fourth-quarter challenges that they should have been denied.
The difference was the Vikings won that game, upsetting the 49ers 24-13.
"No, I don't," feel bad for the Packers, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said.
Frazier had little interest in entertaining a question about the impact the Monday night result would have had on his team, if it had been the Vikings playing in Seattle.
"That's purely hypothetical," he said. "As you guys know, we've had some tough losses we've had to overcome here and none more evident than when we went to Indy (in Week 2). So who knows? Who knows?"
Said Robison: "I think if you look at it, you don't ever really want to see a team lose like that. But at the same time, it's something you can't dwell on. For us, obviously, if it would have happened to us it would have hurt. But it doesn't really affect us as far as in the locker room and things like that.
"Our job is to just go out there, make plays, win games and we can't let those type of things creep in the locker room and bother us and create a divide in the NFL. We've just got to be able to go out here and play."
Frazier acknowledged that he has continually told his players to remain focused on what they can control and that message isn't going to change whether the replacement or normal officials are working Sunday's game in Detroit.
This is a strength of Frazier's and is what he did when he was named the Vikings' interim coach in 2010 after Brad Childress was fired in November of that season.
Whether it was the collapse of the Metrodome roof after a December snowstorm, or being stuck in Philadelphia for three days because the threat of a snowstorm postponed a game from Sunday to Tuesday night, Frazier was able to keep his team focused.
"I just know I better make sure we're focused on our assignments and what we have to do and have the ability to overcome whatever happens because you're going to have some adversity on the road and our guys know that," Frazier said, looking ahead to Sunday's game at Ford Field. "We'll keep talking to them about that throughout the week."
This doesn't mean Vikings players are above trying to take advantage of the fact the referees working their games aren't even the best that college football has to offer.
"You have to (take advantage of that) but it goes either way," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "I've seen some of the pass interferences they were calling, which weren't pass interferences. So, you just don't want to put the game in officials hands, but the last couple of weeks it seems like it's been going that way."
Meanwhile, Ponder said he had heard the reports that a deal with the regular officials was just about done but he didn't seem too concerned about the situation.
"It's something we can't control and obviously we'll be happy if (the regular officials) come back," he said. "The referees, the replacement guys, they've been put in such a tough position. They are doing the best they can and you can't blame them for anything. They are busting their butts to do it and even when the regular guys come back, they are going to make mistakes as well. I feel bad for them. They're doing a lot of hard work and I appreciate what they're doing."