In a game far from devoid of storylines, the Patriots lost yet again on a play involving a last second field goal. The kick that won Baltimore the game, 31-30, was controversial in and of itself – I for one absolutely thought it was a miss as it happened in real-time. Because the kick flew above the uprights as opposed to through them, whether it was a make or a miss was not reviewable despite the fact that the game’s outcome was on the line. Regardless, it was damn close and dumped the Patriots to 1-2 – a losing record! This is uncharted territory for Mr. Brady and company.
In all honesty, I don’t have too many qualms about this loss – it was an exciting game with two teams absolutely going at it. It was certainly the chippiest game I’ve watched yet this season. Both Tom Brady and Joe Flacco had quarterback ratings over 100, with Torrey Smith, Wes Welker, and Brandon Llyod all having monster games. Despite the Ravens defensive prowess, I don’t really have any issues with the play of the Patriots offensive line in this game either – Brady was protected reasonably well, and neither team really excelled on the defensive end. Ray Rice is one tough little bastard to defend, and I certainly feel uneasy knowing that the Ravens pass rush isn’t half as good with Terrell Suggs on the sideline. This is a team I continue to want to avoid come playoff time.
Two storylines really stuck out in this contest – the death of Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith’s brother earlier in the day, and the officiating. I’ll start with Smith. To some extent, I stumbled across Smith during my fantasy football draft last season and watched with pleasant surprise as he tore it up for me last year. I then drafted him again this year. I knew he’d play in the game despite his brother’s death, and if I was the Ravens coach I would have done exactly what Jon Harbaugh did – target Smith relentlessly. You knew he was going to come up big, and despite the loss there’s a feel-good sentiment to knowing that Torrey Smith needed all those yards and that victory yesterday. You’ve got to feel happy that Smith got a small victory amidst the worst day of his life.
Secondarily, there was the issue of the officiating. Hold your horses; you’re not about to hear a bunch of whining out of a fan whose team lost. In fact, I haven’t written a single word about the replacement refs all season – I fall very strongly in the “that’s something you can’t control” camp – just go out there and play. And in this game, the reffing was atrocious – both ways. It was easily the most poorly officiated game I’ve ever watched. The TV announcers were literally laughing at the head official, a long-time stalwart in Division II college football. I’d imagine that the speed at the pro level is a bit different. When the announcers blatantly prove more than a handful of calls to be flat-out incorrect, there’s a big problem. When an entire stadium in standing and chanting BS so loudly that I have to turn the volume on my TV down, that’s just not good for business. And when the majority of first downs in the game were the result of penalties, well that’s just not fun.
The NFL is an absolute beast of a league – it makes unbelievable amounts of money, is incredibly well run, and it has undeniably surpassed baseball as America’s sport of choice. That said, this whole official-gate scenario has proven that the NFL thinks it’s untouchable – they think they can do no wrong. Frankly, I’ve tended to echo that sentiment. But yesterday’s game caused me to rethink my stance. Why? Simply because I have no faith in the outcome of the game. I’m not saying that Patriots should have won whatsoever. I’m saying if the game is officiated at a normal 2011 level, it might not even have been a close game. The Ravens might have won, the Patriots might have won – I don’t know. But officiating dramatically altered yesterday’s game, no doubt, and for me it’s eroding the credibility of what happens on the field. Football fans aren’t going anywhere soon, but with most fans’ faith in the fairness of the game waning, the NFL certainly has reason to be concerned.
All in all, the Patriots put up 31 points despite struggling in the red zone – they simply needed to do a better job containing Ray Rice and Joe Flacco. While no one saw a 1-2 record coming, I’m certainly not concerned – this team will run off a bunch of wins sooner rather than later and will be where they need to be come playoff time. But I do wish that I was more comfortable with the game’s outcome being the correct one.