Did the refs cost the Patriots Sunday night’s game? Did the defense take a major step back? Is Devin McCourty terrible?

Yes, potentially and it’s beginning to look like that.

As far as the refs go, both the Patriots and Ravens have legitimate beef about some of the calls that were made in that game. There was a holding call on McCourty on Torrey Smith at the line of scrimmage where he McCourty literally didn’t make contact with Smith. There was a holding call on Jerod Mayo on Ray Rice in which – prior to the flag being thrown, because the flags never show up until 30 seconds after the play with these guys – Rice turned around and patted Mayo on the head, as if to say, “Good coverage.” But no.

There was also an offensive pass interference call on Julian Edelman that was as ticky-tack as it gets, and it potentially took a touchdown off the board for the Pats. Then there was the Anquan Boldin first down play, which was somehow reversed even though there was no angle that could ever have shown that Boldin reached the first down marker. And finally, there was the field goal, which I can’t say definitively went in or did not, but either way there should have been some sort of review or at least an explanation. Instead, Bill Belichick was forced to grab a referee who refused to respond to him, igniting some sort of rage against Belichick like he did something atrocious…when he just wanted to know if the play was going to be reviewed.

For the Ravens, I’ve kind of blacked out on the bad calls that went against them because of the rage I went in to when the Patriots somehow lost that game, but I know the refs weren’t just one-sided. They were bad both ways. Still, I can’t get those calls I just wrote about out of my mind. If one or two of them is called correctly, the Pats win. It’s that simple. So maybe there wasn’t a call on the last play of the game that actually DECIDED the game right there (a la Packers-Seahawks), but the field goal was pretty close, and the other plays could very well have impacted the outcome.

If you’re counting, that’s two consecutive weeks now that the Patriots have been bitten by the referees when it matters most. Against the Cardinals, Rob Gronkowski was called for a phantom holding call on a would-be game-winning touchdown by Danny Woodhead that ended up coming back. Mike Pereira – the Fox refereeing guru – proclaimed publicly that it was a bad call. Then, this week happened. I’m not trying to make excuses, and I know it just sounds like I’m a Patriots fan complaining, but that did happen. It’s true that I watch the Patriots games closer then other games around the league, so maybe every other team can say similar things, but I know for a fact that the Patriots could be 3-0 just as easily as they’re 1-3.

Now, as far as the defense goes, I thought Sunday night was a huge step in the wrong direction. The linebackers all looked slow, particularly Brandon Spikes (who struggles in pass coverage anyway), Mayo and Dont’a Hightower, who was late getting over to clog the hole on a Ray Rice touchdown. Cris Collinsworth pointed it out and he was exactly right – it was just poor reaction time.

To top that off, the Patriots didn’t record a single hit of Joe Flacco all game. Not a sack – a hit. They did not lay a hand on Joe Flacco for 60 minutes except when they sacked him in the fourth quarter, only to have the refs negate it because they called a BS defensive holding penalty. That means that they didn’t really stop the run (Ray Rice had 100 yards), they didn’t touch the quarterback, they gave up 31 points, they couldn’t cover the pass with their linebackers or their top corner (McCourty) and they didn’t create turnovers. Add it up, and you’ve got a bad defensive game against a Joe Flacco-led offense. That’s not good considering how good the defense had looked the first two weeks. Not good at all.

In terms of McCourty, there is enough of a body of work out there now to legitimately say that he’s not a very good football player. You don’t want to give up on him because he’s only in his third year and went to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, but ever since game one of last year – that’s 19 games now – he’s been a liability. For all the bad calls the refs made on Sunday, the pass interference call they made on McCourty towards the end of the game that set up the game-winning field goal was spot on. He just can’t seem to locate the ball when it’s in the air.

The Pats haven’t been under .500 since the first game of the 2003 season when they got killed by the Bills just a week after unexpectedly releasing Lawyer Milloy. I think they’ll still be okay (and they did end up winning the Super Bowl in that 2003 season) but we’ll have to wait and see how they respond.

The rest of the league…

  • It would be nice if we could talk about something other then the refs after three weeks of professional football, but we can’t. There is no other storyline that comes close to carrying the same weight as the locked-out refs problem. Sure it’s nice that the Arizona Cardinals are 3-0, and yes I guess Sean Payton really does matter that much (the Saints are 0-3), but do any of those stories stand up against the fact that games are being ruined – and that’s not an overstatement – every single week? The Patriots-Ravens game was almost impossible to enjoy because of the scrums, the delays when flags were thrown, the inconsistency of the calls, the bad calls, the picked-up flags, the screaming coaches and the dumbfounded announcers. It was a disaster, and that’s more the norm then the exception at this point in the season.
  • After that Sunday night game ended, there were swarms of columns written about how “that game was the last straw,” and how it was the “poster game” for the entire ref lockout. Uh, maybe those columnists should have waited until the Monday night game, in which the refs reached an absolutely new low in the Packers-Seahawks contest. A few plays stand out, and they without question changed the outcome of the game.

1. A pass interference call on the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas on the Packers’ only touchdown drive. It wasn’t pass interference, and it kept the drive alive. Aaron Rodgers eventually turned that in to what should have been the game-winning points (although they never should have scored those points to begin with because of the horrific pass interference call).

2. On the next drive, the Seahawks took over and Russell Wilson was flushed out of the pocket. He threw a pass that was tipped and eventually intercepted. The Packers should have taken over deep in Seahawks’ territory, but the refs instead called a roughing the passer call on what was a perfectly clean hit on Wilson. It was so far from a roughing the passer penalty that when the flag was thrown the announcers speculated that it was 100 different things, and not one of those things was roughing the passer.

3. On that same drive that was continued because of the roughing the passer, pass interference was called on the Packers’ Sam Shields when it should have been called on the Seahawks’ Sidney Rice. That was on a first-and-30 play, and it gave the Seahawks first-and-10, and they eventually drove the ball all the way down to the Packers’ 7-yard-line.

Here’s why those plays were big: Even though Seattle didn’t end up scoring on that drive, they turned the ball over on downs on the 7. That gave them the opportunity to flip the field position because Green Bay took over so deep in its own territory. Had that pass interference not been called, for example, the Seahawks would have punted earlier and Green Bay would have taken around its own 30. Instead, it took over at its own 7, lost five yards on first down and ended up punting the ball back to Seattle, who took it all the way to Green Bay’s 43-yard-line. That’s where they started their eventual “game-winning” drive. So those plays mattered, big time, even though they didn’t take place on the actual touchdown drive.

4. I keep hearing people refer to the final play as “controversial.” That’s wrong. Controversial insinuates that there’s a debate to be had. There’s no debate. That call was simply wrong. The pass was intercepted by the Packers. It was not caught by Golden Tate. It should have ended the game, with the Packers winning 12-7. Instead, the Seahawks won 14-12. Not controversial – just wrong.

  • If the locked out officials don’t return at some point before this weekend’s games, the NFL may actually see a legitimate decrease in its viewership. I didn’t think it was possible, but I’ve rethought that. These refs are that bad that they may actually bring down the ratings of a league that could do no wrong…except this.
  • Michael Vick can’t keep up this turnover pace, can he? And I don’t mean that he can’t keep it up in order for the Eagles to be successful - I mean that he can’t physically continue to turn the ball over at this rate, right? I don’t think it’s possible.
  • I don’t like the Jets, but I certainly never wish injury, and they are not going to be able to make the playoffs without Darrelle Revis. Simple as that. I don’t see how that defense runs all the blitzes that it does without Revis. It’s all predicated on playing man coverage without any help, and Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie aren’t exactly prepared to fill those shoes.
  • The Falcons are so good right now, and Matt Ryan is the biggest reason why. He looks like a Brady-Manning-Brees-Rodgers type of guy when he comes on the field now, and the rest of the offense responds to him like they believe he’s that guy.

Scott Hanson should run for president 

You’ll be happy to know that it’s not just you and I who are beyond frustrated with the officiating, it’s Scott Hanson, who nearly had a nervous breakdown during Red Zone on Sunday because of all the terrible calls he had to keep switching to. The guy just wants two things in the world – clean football, and a successful season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Is that so much to ask. Now, for your enjoyment:

Romney? Obama?

Hanson.

Jon Gruden’s Monday Night Hits

Did anyone else notice the level of disgust on Gruden’s face when the game ended on Monday night? He said something like:

“Now that does not leave a good taste in my mouth Mike. I am not happy about that.”

But beyond what he said, it was how he looked that really captured Gruden’s contributions to the Monday night telecast. Betwen telling me about “This guy Russell Wilson,” he found a way to silently show his disgust for the replacement officials.

While Mike Tirico was interviewing former referee Jerry Markbreit, Gruden saw his chance to strike. He looked at the camera slyly – without catching the attention of Tirico or Markbreit – and just shook his head with poor disdain. He made his best Chuckie face, then, just before looking back at Tirico, he shrugged and threw his hands up in the air like a lunatic.

I tried desperately to find a video of this online, but it’s no where, unfortunately. So, this is the best I could do:

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