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Miami Dolphins players criticize replacement refs

Everyone and their bookie couldn’t wait to weigh in on the outrageous — and unjust, even the NFL later admitted — conclusion to the Seahawks-Packers game late Monday night.

As soon as the officiating crew in Seattle upheld the touchdown-call-that-never-should-have-been, Dolphins running back Reggie Bush told his 2.6 million Twitter followers he has had enough of the league’s shaky replacement officials.

“These refs gotta go I’m sorry,” Bush wrote in one tweet, before adding in another, “Refs single handedly blew this one...”

Added Brian Hartline on Twitter: “WOW!! Help please [Roger Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner]. I had to check my TV Guide [because] for a sec I thought I was watching Punk’d... I was just waiting for Ashton [Kutcher] to pop out.”

Usually, Hartline and Bush — along with dozens of their similarly outspoken peers — could expect fines for such explicit criticism. But these are no normal times. The NFL has no plans to punish them, a league spokesman said Tuesday.

Perhaps the executives on Park Avenue know they have a far bigger issue on their hands: salvaging the credibility of their long-protected shield.

(And not just because the last-second Hail Mary cost gamblers millions; 75  percent of bettors at the online gambling site took the Packers, with millions lost because of the disputed call.)

The NFL admitted Tuesday that the game-winning touchdown “catch” by Seattle’s Golden Tate should not have counted — but not for the reason most believed.

The league backed the ruling that Tate, and not Packers safety M.D. Jennings, came down with the ball, but did stipulate that Tate should have been flagged for a game-ending offensive-pass-interference penalty, which the officials missed.

However, such penalties are not subject to instant replay, and so the on-field officials were correct in naming Seattle the winners, the league argued. “The result of the game is final,” the NFL said in a statement.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who criticized the initial call Monday, wasn’t any more impressed by the next-day response. “The game is being tarnished by an NFL that obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished a little bit,” he told Milwaukee’s ESPN 540 on Tuesday.

Also missing from the seven-paragraph statement: Whether the real, more-qualified officials will be back on the field anytime soon. They have been locked out all season, the result of a labor dispute over retirement benefits, among other issues.

Working in their place: dozens of stand-in officials from college football’s lower classifications — including a Fort Lauderdale bank executive.

During the week, Bob Powell is a regional vice president for TD Bank. On Sundays, he’s a replacement field judge. Powell wasn’t part of a crew that came under fire during Week 3, working the Bills’ drama-free win in Cleveland.

Still, he was in no mood to talk when reached at his office Tuesday.

“I’ve got to pass you on to the NFL,” Powell said good-naturedly. “We’re under strict orders not to talk at all.”

The trouble for the league is, those connected to — but not employed by — the NFL have no such restrictions.

Analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer excoriated the league on ESPN immediately after the game, and went back for seconds Tuesday on ESPN Radio.

Several player agents, including South Florida-based David Canter, demanded on Twitter that the owners’ and referee’s union hammer out an agreement.

“Vince Lombardi and [NFL Films cofounder] Steve Sabol are probably turning over in their graves right now,” Canter told The Miami Herald. “There’s a feeling when you’re at a game that the league is out of control. That’s the scariest thing you could ever do in the National Football League.”

“They’re the wrong people on the wrong field for the wrong time,” he added.

Inconsistency and inability to keep games crisp and in a flow have been a nuisance to the Dolphins and their fans. But there has yet to be an outcome-shifting call in a game involving Miami.

Still, the Dolphins have been hurt on the margins, penalized 11 times in their 23-20 loss to New York, including several questionable flags that went against the secondary.

Total penalties through three games are up 18 percent over the team’s average in the past decade. At the current rate, the Dolphins would have their most-penalized season in seven years.

Yet despite the national uproar — even President Obama weighed in Tuesday, urging the two sides to hammer out a deal — few think a resolution is imminent. Replacement officials will likely remain in place when the Dolphins visit Arizona on Sunday. Should this continue, odds are the Dolphins will at some point have a game decided by them.

“Probably lose it on the field,” Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson wrote when asked how he would react to a Packers-style robbery.

If not on the field, certainly on Twitter.

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