With commissioner Roger Goodell at the table, the NFL and referees’ union pressed toward a settlement Wednesday to end a three-month lockout that triggered a wave of frustration and anger over replacement officials and threatened to disrupt the rest of the season.
Two days after a controversial call cost the Green Bay Packers a win, both sides were said to be nearing a deal and several reports put regular officials back at work perhaps as early as Sunday.
ESPN reported that ‘‘an agreement in principle is at hand.’’ The New York Times said the sides ‘‘were closing in’’ on a new agreement.
The NFL declined to confirm that a tentative contract was imminent.
The union wants improved salaries, retirement benefits, and other logistical issues for the mostly part-time referees. The NFL has proposed a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match.
Talks resumed Wednesday morning and continued past 11 p.m. following a 14-hour meeting that started Tuesday. Goodell attended that session as well as four meetings last week.
Some coaches, including Miami’s Joe Philbin and Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, instructed players not to speak publicly on the issue, especially after a barrage of comments that accompanied Monday night’s Green Bay-Seattle game, which the Packers lost, 14-12, on a missed call.
Fines against two coaches for incidents involving the replacements were handed out Wednesday. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was docked $50,000 for trying to grab an official’s arm Sunday to ask for an explanation of a call after his team lost at Baltimore. And Redskins assistant Kyle Shanahan was tagged for $25,000 for what the league called ‘‘abuse of officials’’ in a loss to Cincinnati Sunday.
Boris Cheek, an NFL official for 17 years, said Wednesday that the controversial call Monday night wasn’t a tough one, and that, ‘‘our grandmoms sitting at home can probably make that call.’’
Cheek said the ruling on the winning touchdown reception by Golden Tate was the result of a breakdown in mechanics and communication by the replacement officials.
Cheek said the lockout is not ‘‘good for the game of football’’ and the regular officials ‘‘want to go to back to work, but it has to be the right deal for 121 guys.’’
‘‘I've not heard anything at this point,’’ Cheek said when asked if the lockout was nearing an end. ‘‘We all want to get back to work and do what we love doing. We’re taking it minute by minute and day by day and we’re trying to be professionals. All I've heard is that they’re meeting.’’
‘‘Honestly, [replacement officials] are in a tough situation out there,’’ Cheek added. ‘‘I mean, it’s tough to keep up with the speed of this game with such short training. And that was a big play. But that is why we get paid. We get paid to make those calls. When you are in that arena you have to make that call and make it right.’’
Tate spoke Wednesday for the first time since his 24-yard TD reception.
He admitted to fouling Sam Shields when he shoved the defender to the ground before leaping to try and make the catch. But the outcry from angry fans startled Tate, who said he’s been called, ‘‘a cheater, I don’t have any dignity, I'm not a Christian, a lot of hurtful things.’’
He said if he repeated many of the things that showed up on his Twitter timeline after his disputed catch it would be a series of bleeps.
One day after venting on his radio show about the refereeing that cost his team the game, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers saved one last barb for the NFL.
Asked Wednesday about how the Packers were handling the loss, Rodgers dismissed an NFL-issued statement generally supporting the officials’ handling of the situation as a ‘‘bogus report.’’
Beyond that, though, the MVP said it’s time to move on.
Rodgers said that while the officials were lacking, ‘‘there’s a lot of blame to fall on the shoulders of guys like myself who didn’t play their best game that night.’’
In Las Vegas, a casino took an unusual step Wednesday and offered refunds to gamblers who lost money when the Seahawks beat the Packers.
Derek Stevens, owner of The D Las Vegas, said, “I know exactly how it would feel if I was laying the number and I saw what happened.’’ He declared himself ‘‘disgusted’’ with the ruling and said he just couldn’t accept the outcome.
Nevada gambling regulators said Stevens could make refunds if he wanted.
Another Las Vegas sports book operator worried the move set a bad precedent.
‘‘Whenever there are bad calls we’re going to start refunding? Based on what?’’ said Jay Kornegay, race and sports book director at The LVH casino. ‘‘We’re supposed to pay out winning wagers based on official final scores by the league.’’
Some offshore online betting outlets have also issued refunds.
Steve Reed, Tim Booth, Chris Jenkins, and Ken Ritter of the AP contributed to this report.