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NFL Referees Make Official Return to Field [VIDEO]

Ravens fans had two reasons to cheer Thursday night. The second was a 23-16 win over the Browns that came down to the final play. The first was the return of the regular officials, who received an ovation just before kickoff.

 Referee Gene Steratore on the field during the Cleveland Browns -Baltimore Ravens matchup in Baltimore.
Referee Gene Steratore on the field during the Cleveland Browns -Baltimore Ravens matchup in Baltimore.(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Gene Steratore’s officiating crew was the first to work an NFL game since the league ended its lockout late Wednesday night and reached a tentative contract agreement with the referees’ union. M&T Bank Stadium erupted in cheers after Steratore brought the captains of the Browns and Ravens together for the coin toss, turned on his microphone and said, “Good evening men. It’s good to be back.”

FULL COVERAGE: NFL Replacement Refs

Joe Flacco was sharp for the Ravens, completing 28 of 46 for 356 yards. He also threw for a touchdown and ran for another as Baltimore improved to 3-1 with its ninth straight win over Cleveland.

Cary Williams returned an interception 63 yards for a score near the end of the third quarter to give the Ravens a 13-point lead.

The Browns had a chance to tie the game until rookie Brandon Weeden sailed a throw out of the end zone with no time left, one play before the Ravens were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on fourth-and-10.

The game ended about 24 hours after the league and the officials’ union reached a tentative eight-year agreement, halting the three-month lockout.

Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to the fans for putting them through this but added it was necessary to get the kind of deal the league needs for the future. Goodell also played down how much Monday’s Green Bay-Seattle game played into the final agreement, saying the pressure had been on both sides already.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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