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  • Tony Avelar / Associated Press

    The 49ers' Donte Whitner (31), victimized on a touchdown catch by the Lions' Brandon Pettigrew, said NFL defenses have been seeing how much they can get away with.

  • Brandon Jacobs

49ers' Whitner says teams took advantage of replacement refs

Published: Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012 - 5:52 pm

BOARDMAN, Ohio – To hear Donte Whitner explain it, having replacement referees officiate games has been like being in a grade-school class run by a substitute teacher: You can get away with a few more shenanigans than usual.

"I do believe defense has been getting away with some things that you normally don't see," the 49ers safety said, citing some rougher-than-normal play against receivers downfield.

"Not just our team – I think every team on defense has been stretching it to the limit," Whitner said. " … You just knew that you were going to be able to get away with a little more."

Whitner and the rest of the players, however, will have to be on their best behavior once again.

Wednesday night, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association reached a tentative contract agreement, ending an impasse that began in June when the league locked out the officials.

The tipping point was a "Monday Night Football" game in which two blown calls on a last-second pass to the end zone by the Seattle Seahawks clearly cost Green Bay a win.

First the officials in that game missed a blatant offensive pass-interference penalty on Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. Then they ruled that Tate had possession of the ball in the end zone when it appeared to be intercepted instead by Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings. The ruling gave the Seahawks a touchdown and a 14-12 victory, and it sent the Packers to 1-2.

The scenario triggered an avalanche of criticism, including from the political world.

"I would not have called that last play the way they did," former President Bill Clinton said on MSNBC.

"NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon," President Barack Obama tweeted Tuesday.

Said Obama's election opponent, Mitt Romney, on Wednesday: "I'd sure like to see some experienced referees with NFL experience come back."

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn't nearly as politic in his remarks.

"The game is being tarnished by an NFL who obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished a little bit," he said.

San Francisco players also reacted strongly to Monday's game, saying they were eager to have the locked-out officials back on the field when they face the New York Jets on Sunday.

Like Whitner, guard Alex Boone suggested he and his offensive-line mates have stretched the rules at times under the replacements.

"I think that offensive linemen are crafty. I think they're savvy," Boone said. "We know when to maybe get away with something."

It appears he and his position mates have been better at it than Whitner and the rest of the defensive backs.

Through three games, the 49ers' offensive line has been flagged only once for holding. It came against left tackle Joe Staley in Week 1 against Green Bay.

The San Francisco secondary, meanwhile, has been hit with eight penalties, including two unnecessary roughness calls against safety Dashon Goldson on the same Minnesota drive Sunday.

The second call gave the Vikings the ball at the 49ers' 14-yard line. Five plays later – following a holding penalty on cornerback Carlos Rogers – Minnesota scored the final touchdown of the game.

Goldson said officials told him he struck Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph with his helmet. Goldson insisted – and replays corroborated – that he hit Rudolph with his shoulder.

Said Whitner: "They always say this game is a game of inches. On Monday night, you saw that. Last week, you saw that with us. … Calls like that really can cost you."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Matthew Barrows

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