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Officially, an exasperating loss for Patriots

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 23, 2012 10:08 PM

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Maybe the language could have been more elegant, but the point had to be made, and it was, effectively. It's doubtful anyone on either sideline of the ferocious Patriots-Ravens rivalry would dispute that the prolonged two-syllable chant by those in attendance at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday nailed the sentiment regarding the sham Roger Goodell and those he serves are perpetrating on the league with these hapless, helpless replacement officials.

You only wish someone with some clout said the same thing, on the record, and with the same bluntness. Brandon Spikes had the right idea with his instantly legendary tweet Sunday night, but he could be easily dismissed by Goodell's minions as a loose cannon who left his credibility on Chatroulette.

Sure, to rip the abysmal guessing game disguised as NFL officiating Sunday -- and every week of this young season so far -- might have made Tom Brady look like a sore loser in the moments after a maddening-for-many-reasons 31-30 loss to the Ravens Sunday night, and he does have an image to protect.

But just think what a few words of blunt criticism of the league -- hell, even if he chose eloquence over vulgarity -- from a player of his magnitude might finally push this charade to the tipping point. Instead, we're stuck with the constant reminder that Ed Hochuli was actually quite competent once you got past the preening.

Instead, Brady, ever the diplomat even when his eyes are burning with fury, sidestepped a postgame query about the refereeing by saying he can only worry about doing his job. Bill Belichick directed all postgame questions about the refs to the refs, though he made his feelings clear before he left the field when he grabbed one and appeared to offer some choice commentary.

It was an unbecoming display, and it was a reminder that we should sympathize with the refs to some degree. They've been put into a position to do a job for which they are unqualified and incapable. But there will be more scenes of furious coaches accosting puzzled, saucer-eyed officials every single week until this thing is settled. This is at critical mass, the product is compromised, and even the hard-liners who want to prolong this to break the union must know it. I mean, they do, right? Tell me they do. Would Bob Kraft be a hypocrite if he paid the inevitable five-figure fine coming down from Goodell on Belichick's behalf? Geez, if he'd just do the right thing here ...

It's not the officials' fault that the Patriots return to Foxborough with a 1-2 record, and I probably should have acknowledged that a few paragraphs ago. There seems to be almost an inevitability that these teams will meet again with something bigger at stake, and the Patriots got another reminder that the Ravens are the tough rival the Jets think they are.

The Ravens exposed some flaws in the Patriots -- the pass rush was nonexistent, and relatedly, Devin McCourty was absolutely dismantled by Joe Flacco, who completed 71.8 percent of his passes for 382 yards and led four touchdown drives of at least 80 yards.

Offensively, Tom Brady had a tremendous game considering the relentlessness of the opponent, but Josh McDaniels continues to get cute at the expense of effectiveness and efficiency. Role players Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead had featured roles while Rob Gronkowski was targeted just three times. At least Wes Welker (eight catches, 142 yards) wasn't marginalized this week. There will be a lot of Chicken Little stuff this week, but this team is going to be fine.

Whether we can say the same about the league as a whole in 2012 remains to be seen, though of course we'll tune in no matter what, something Goodell is banking on. But this is not the NFL, not as we know it and love it. It's entertaining, in its current haphazard way, but it's not the same game that carries us through each fall. The disjointed and inept officiating is altering the game in ways that cannot be predicted. You simply hope they get it wrong in the favor of the team for which you're rooting.

To put it another way: there were 24 penalties called for 218 yards, with 11 accounting for a first down ... and yet for all of the yellow flags, they had absolutely no control over the behavior of the players. Logan Mankins and Haloti Ngata are probably still standing at midfield taking turns headbutting each other as we speak.

The rest of us, we're left banging our heads, waiting for the officials and the integrity of the game to return.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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