On the same day the NFL resolved its lockout with the referees, bringing an end to the replacement referee debacle that put a significant blemish on the league, this blog gets its own replacement beat writer.
What are the chances?
Josh Land isn't at M&T Bank Stadium tonight. In fact, he's not even on this continent. Nevertheless, your Ravens beat writer is taking some much-deserved time off.
That means I'll be filling in tonight, updating you on all of the action as the Ravens get set to host the Browns. Despite tonight's contest earning the weekly Thursday Night Football spot, the matchup on paper might suggest this game will be a snoozer. As history has proven countless times, however, no game is certain and the Ravens will have to be sharp if they plan to head into the weekend with a 3-1 mark.
Let's start with the day's biggest news, which is the decision - one that actually came late Wednesday night - to end the lockout between the NFL and the referees. After weeks of negotiations and enough complaints from the fans and players to make the DMV seem tranquil, the two sides came to an agreement, meaning an NFL game will have regular officials for the first time since Super Bowl XLVI.
It's certainly an understatement to say the replacement refs were less than stellar. In fact, they seemed to regress each week, culminating in Monday night's game-ending call which cost the Green Bay Packers a victory. Fortunately that's all over.
Congratulations, replacement refs. You filled in. Now go away.
One thing to notice tonight will be the added intensity and focus from both teams, presumably as a direct result of having the regular refs back on the field. Players and coaches likely won't have to worry as much about the game's officiating and can focus on earning a victory.
For the Ravens, that'll mean a healthy balance of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Last week against New England, Flacco threw for 382 yards on 28 completions, while Rice added 101 yards and a score on the ground. That paved the way to 31 points and an emotional win over Tom Brady and company.
The Browns, meanwhile, are still searching for their first win as they groom one of the youngest offenses in the league. Quarterback Brandon Weeden is off to a slow start, but when you add in the fact that he's a rookie, things could be worse for the 28-year-old. Trent Richardson is a scary combination of power and speed and will need both for Cleveland to have a chance.
We'll have more a little later on, but for now, get ready for some football and rejoice - the regular zebras are back.
Update: Tonight's officials came onto the field for the first time just a few minutes ago, and the few thousand fans already in their seats let them know how glad they are to see them.
Ravens fans gave the officials a standing ovation, complete with a tip of the cap from the refs. I'm no sports historian, but that's got to be the first time that's happened in sports history. Now let's just see how long this friendly relationship lasts. Nine minutes, ya think?