Roger Goodell apologizes to fans for replacement refs

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to fans Thursday during a conference call with reporters that focused on the new contract with the NFL Referees Association. Wednesday's deal officially ended the use of replacement officials who had been highly scrutinized over the past three weeks of the regular season:

"Sorry to have to put our fans through that," Goodell said, acknowledging a torrid, sometimes out-of-control showing from league's replacement officials. They were never ready for the speed of the game or its complexities, but Goodell expressed hope for a return to normalcy.

On Wednesday night, Goodell and the NFLRA agreed to a new eight-year contract that immediately allowed the NFL's refs to return to work after being lockout since the beginning of the preseason. The NFL's initial plan was to use the replacement referees until a new more favorable deal was reached with the NFLRA.

However, the NFL's plan backfired, as week-by-week concerns about the performance of the replacement officials grew and finally reached a boiling point with a game-changing blown call during the Seattle Seahawks' 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football:

"You always have costs for the short term, but you sometimes have to experience that to get to the right place in the long term. And that's sometimes a painful thing."

NFLRA referees will be officiating Thursday night's AFC North showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and visiting Cleveland Browns (8:20 p.m. ET on NFL Network).

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