BOSTON (CBS) –  An odd feeling set into the New England Patriots‘ locker room Thursday afternoon.

Players were actually excited about referees. That’s got to feel pretty weird, huh?

“It does, definitely,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said with a chuckle. “I think that’s big for us as players, to know that we’re out there with guys that are going to do their best to keep us safe by making the right calls. It really comes down to player safety. We want to be safe out there on the field, we want to make sure the rules are being abided by and that we’re taken care of, and the game is fair for everyone involved in it.”

After a three-month lockout, the NFL and NFL Referee Association finally came to an agreement early Thursday morning, and regular officials will be back on the field starting Thursday night in Baltimore.

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While Slater is glad the real referees are back, some of his teammates didn’t share the same excitement.

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” tackle Nate Solder said when asked about it.

And just because the regular officials are back doesn’t necessarily mean the end to bad calls on the field either.

“I wish,” linebacker Rob Ninkovich told, letting out a laugh. “No matter who’s out there making the calls, there’s going to be some issues.”

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“After three weeks, they were a bigger deal than people thought,” Ninkovich said of the refs’ absence. “Everyone can just stop worrying about that and play football.”

But as soon as the team hits the practice field on Thursday, the referees will be an afterthought. The Patriots have more important things to worry about, like their 1-2 record and their upcoming meeting with the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon.

“We can’t spend too much time thinking about who is calling the game. We have to continue to prepare and do our jobs,” said Slater. “I’m sure at some point we’re going to be mad or upset by a call these guys make, so we just have to move on. I’m happy things resolved themselves though.”

Tune in to Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV. Kickoff is at 1pm, with Patriots Preview beginning at 10am on 98.5, and Patriots Gameday at 11:30am on WBZ-TV. Stick with the Hub for three hours of post game coverage following the game, and Patriots 5th Quarter on WBZ-TV.


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