Two days after a controversial call cost the Green Bay Packers a win, the NFL and the referees' union are reportedly nearing an end to a lockout that has put replacement officials on the field since the start of the season.
According to several reports, the NFL and the union are close to a new deal that would allow the league's regular officials to return to work, possibly as early as this weekend. ESPN reported Wednesday that "an agreement in principle is at hand," and The New York Times reported that the sides "were closing in" on a way to end the impasse. ESPN cited unidentified sources from both sides; the Times cited a person briefed on the negotiations.
The NFL declined to confirm that a deal was imminent.
"Until somebody tells me differently, it's not really changed," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Still, even the suggestion that regular refs could be back as early as Sunday was greeted with welcoming words.
"If it's final and they are, I'm sure a lot of people will be happy — and I'll be one of those guys, too," running back Adrian Peterson said on a conference call from Detroit in advance of the upcoming Vikings-Lions game.
NFL agent David Canter tweeted: "Welcome back real refs. Just remember when you blow a call you'll get no sympathy."
A person briefed on the negotiations told The Associated Press that the talks between the league and its officials resumed Wednesday following a 14-hour meeting that started Tuesday. The person spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the discussions were not made public and would not characterize the talks.
The debate over the use of replacement officials has raged since the start of the season, and boiled over after the final play of the Packers-Seahawks game. A last-second scrum in the end zone was ruled a game-winning touchdown by Seahawks receiver Golden Tate. But Packers players, their fans and much of the football-watching public saw an interception by Green Bay's M.D. Jennings.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay's quarterback and the reigning league MVP, used his weekly radio show Tuesday as a platform to lash out at the NFL and question its priorities.
Even President Barack Obama has weighed in on the dispute, tweeting Tuesday that "NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon."
Even if a deal is reached, it's still uncertain how it would affect the weekend's games.
AP Sports Writers Richard Rosenblatt, Larry Lage and Michael Marot contributed to this report.