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Breaking Down the Officiating in New England Patriots Loss to Baltimore Ravens

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Breaking Down the Officiating in New England Patriots Loss to Baltimore Ravens
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I am not alone in my reluctance to write about the officiating. 

Writing about officiating is one of the things I've found most difficult as a sports reporter. No one ever leaves a game thinking the officiating was good, but seldom is the officiating so singularly bad that it becomes the dominant theme of the game. ...Monday night was different. About the time the officials couldn't tell whether or not the extra point needed to be kicked, it was clear the officiating was going to be the major conversation about this game.

Danny O'Neill of The Seattle Times

My initial hesitancy was based on the fear of opening Pandora's box. How many games could you go through and parse the officiating and the calls to highlight a team that got the short end of the stick?

But very few games have as many egregious examples of bad officiating as the one we're talking about here.

In light of the Monday Night Madness between the Seahawks and the Packers, we should look at another game that was affected negatively by officiating.

That game occurred on Sunday Night Football between the Patriots and the Ravens.

A lot of the buzz on Sunday night following the Patriots' controversial 31-30 loss to the Ravens pertained to the officiating in the game. Some Patriots players felt they were on the wrong end of a lot of bad calls, but know it is something they can't control.

Brandon Spikes took to Twitter to air his frustrations with the "zebras."

The final tally in the box score says the Patriots were penalized 10 times for 83 yards, while the Ravens were penalized 14 times for 135 yards. But as we all know, the box score never tells the whole story.

So what happened on the penalties? Whose penalties were more justified, and which penalties had the most potential impact on the outcome of the game?

To find out, we'll have to go through each penalty one by one. There were 24 of them total.

Pull up a chair, grab a beverage and get comfortable. This could take a minute.

 

Scenario: First quarter, 5:02 remaining. 

What they called: Illegal block in the back on Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

What actually happened: Video inconclusive.

Was the penalty valid?: Video inconclusive.

Consequence: The Patriots start the drive from their own nine-yard line instead of the 18.

 

Scenario: First quarter, 3:10 remaining, 1st-and-10, Patriots ball on their own 49-yard line.

What they called: Personal foul on defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, 15-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Ngata lands on top of Brady after the quarterback has initiated a slide. NBC analyst Chris Collinsworth said he wouldn't have thrown a flag, but to the letter of the law, this is a valid penalty.

But man, I sympathize for Ngata. It must be hard to stop over 330 pounds of momentum on a dime.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: Patriots move the ball to the Ravens' 29-yard line, with the penalty tacked onto the end of the run. The Patriots would go on to kick a field goal. 

 

Scenario: First quarter, 2:14 remaining, 2nd-and-8, Patriots ball on the Ravens' 27-yard line.

What they called: Offensive holding on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, five-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Gronkowski got a hold of part of Upshaw's right shoulder pad in the first frame at the point of initial contact, but is rather quick about getting his hands back inside. 

This drew a comment from Collinsworth, who could say nothing but, "That's...oookaaaay?" 

It's his job to talk about sports, and he's a former football player, but was left speechless by the call.

Was the penalty valid?: No.

Consequence: The play was part of a series that stalled out, which led to the Patriots settling for a 49-yard field goal. But that wasn't the worst penalty the refs would call in this series.

 

Scenario: First quarter, 1:48 remaining, 3rd-and-11, Patriots ball on the Ravens 30-yard line.

What they called: Offensive pass interference on wide receiver Julian Edelman, 10-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Edelman came back for the ball on the left sideline and pushed off of Ravens defensive back Cary Williams a bit in the process.

It should be noted also that Williams was not playing the ball, with his back completely turned to the play, and had an arm draped across Julian Edelman's neck.

If anything, this should have been offsetting penalties. The replacement officials have had a hard time calling pass interference, defensive holding and illegal contact penalties. This is not the last time we'll hear about one in this game.

Was this penalty valid?: No.

Consequence: 10-yard penalty negates a would-be first down, gives Patriots 3rd-and-21, eventually forced to kick a field goal.

 

Scenario: Second quarter, 15:00 remaining, 3rd-and-6, Ravens ball on their own 22-yard line.

What they called: Defensive pass interference on linebacker Jerod Mayo, two-yard penalty.

What actually happened: In the middle frame, Ray Rice is within the five-yard cushion, while Mayo, who has his hand on Rice, is barely on the other side of it. The interference seems to come into play when the ball is in the air.

After the play, Rice is telling the refs that Mayo had a hold of his jersey. Mayo appears to have his hands off Mayo in the third frame, but it's impossible to tell from the camera angle provided and we don't get a replay.

Was this penalty valid?: Not conclusive.

Consequence: Penalty negates a third-down stop; Ravens pick up the first down on a drive that ended in a touchdown.

 

Scenario: Second quarter, 14:24 remaining, 2nd-and-6, Ravens ball on their own 32-yard line.

What they called: Offensive holding on wide receiver Anquan Boldin, 10-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Anquan Boldin hooks the arm of Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty, grabbing him around the collar of his shoulder pads while the cornerback turns to try and make the tackle.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: 10-yard penalty negates the run, Ravens left with 2nd-and-16.

 

Scenario: Second quarter, 12:11 remaining, 1st-and-10, Ravens ball on the Patriots 49-yard line.

What they called: False start on Ravens guard Marshall Yanda, five-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Joe Flacco got Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to jump prior to the snap, and thanks to the new league rule about false start penalties, any movement by an offensive lineman is considered reactionary when a defensive lineman also moves.

Was this penalty valid?: No.

Consequence: Five-yard penalty leaves Ravens with 1st-and-15, no play is negated.

 

Scenario: Second quarter, 9:45 remaining, 1st-and-10, Patriots ball on their own 20-yard line.

What they called: False start on wide receiver Julian Edelman, five-yard penalty.

What actually happened: No point in adding the snapshots since you can't notice his movements, but Edelman clearly moved before the snap, reacting to the movement of tight end Kellen Winslow to his left.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: Patriots are given a 1st-and-15, would eventually punt on the drive.

 

Scenario: Second quarter, 1:21 remaining, 1st-and-10, Patriots ball on their own 31-yard line.

What they called: Defensive holding on linebacker Danelle Ellerbe, five-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Gronkowski runs right into the linebacker, initiating contact at around the five-yard mark beyond the line of scrimmage. 

From there, Ellerbe grabs Gronkowski's jersey and tosses him to the ground.

Even if Gronkowski initiated contact, it's Ellerbe's job to keep his hands off Gronkowski's jersey. If you grab, they'll call it every time—well, unless it's the replacement refs.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes. 

Consequence: The five-yard penalty gave the Patriots 1st-and-10 at the 36-yard line. The Patriots would go on to score a touchdown. 

 

Scenario: Second quarter, :35 remaining, 1st-and-10, Patriots ball on their own 49-yard line.

What they called: Illegal contact on cornerback Cary Williams, five-yard penalty.

What actually happened: The red line is the end of the five-yard window. Williams bumped Patriots receiver Brandon Lloyd after the receiver got him to go the wrong direction on a double move. Since Brady had not yet released the ball, this was illegal contact and not pass interference.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: Patriots get another first down off penalty, and moved up to the Ravens' 46-yard line in the process.

 

Scenario: Second quarter, :07 remaining, point after touchdown.

What they called: Face mask on linebacker Courtney Upshaw, 15-yard penalty enforced between downs. 

What actually happened: Video inconclusive.

Was this penalty valid?: Video inconclusive.

Consequence: The 15-yard penalty was basically inconsequential, since it came at the end of the half and the Ravens kneeled on the ball to send the game to halftime.

 

Scenario: Third quarter, 14:03 remaining, 2nd-and-8, Ravens ball on their own 37-yard line.

What they called: Defensive holding on cornerback Kyle Arrington.

What actually happened: There was a little iffy contact down the field, with Arrington's hand on Boldin's shoulder, but there's no tugging involved in any of the frames here, and there weren't any to be found in the replay.

Was this penalty valid?: No.

Consequence: The five-yard penalty gives the Ravens a fresh set of downs.

 

Scenario: Third quarter, 8:49 remaining, 1st-and-10, Patriots ball on the Ravens' 39-yard line.

What they called: Personal foul on safety Bernard Pollard, 15-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Logan Mankins was involved in a lot of scrapping on Sunday night and gave a little bit of a late block to Pollard after the play had ended. 

With all the extracurricular activity that had taken place to this point, I'm just shocked this was the first personal foul called. 

Was this penalty valid?: This is highly debatable. The way things had gone to this point, it should have been offsetting penalties.

Consequence: Patriots advance to the 21-yard line, helping them score a touchdown on the drive.

 

Scenario: Third quarter, 6:48 remaining, 1st-and-10, Ravens ball on their own 20-yard line.

What they called: False start on wide receiver Torrey Smith, five-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Joe Flacco was checking the play at the line, and Torrey must have mistaken it for a snap count.

This is another one where a screen grab does nothing. Just trust me on this one.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: Ravens stall out on the drive, forced to punt.

 

Scenario: Third quarter, 5:54 remaining, 2nd-and-6, Ravens ball on the Patriots 37-yard line.

What they called: Offensive holding on guard Marshall Yanda, 10-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Vince Wilfork gets up under Yanda's arms with a nice swim move and then rips back across his body, forcing Yanda to wrap his arms around the big defensive tackle.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: The 10-yard penalty was another in a series where the Ravens were forced to punt.

 

Scenario: Third quarter, 5:15 remaining, 4th-and-15, Ravens ball on their own 47-yard line.

What they called: Neutral zone infraction on linebacker Niko Koutouvides

What actually happened: Hard to tell exactly whether he was lined up in the neutral zone here.

Was this penalty valid?: Video inconclusive.

Consequence: Ravens re-try the punt.

 

Scenario: Third quarter, 2:53 remaining, 1st-and-10, Patriots ball on the Ravens 45-yard line.

What they called: Defensive holding on cornerback Jimmy Smith.

What actually happened: Jimmy Smith slips in coverage, and to compensate, he reaches up for Lloyd's shoulder pad (circled). Lloyd falls down after being grabbed. It's unclear whether his falling is a direct result of being grabbed. 

Lloyd did a good sell of the hold, which wasn't all that egregious. Smith's contact was within the five-yard window, but I'm pretty sure you can't just grab a guy by the shoulder pad and throw him to the ground.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: Patriots advance the ball to the 40-yard line and pick up another first down.

 

Scenario: Third quarter, 1:32 remaining, 3rd-and-3, Patriots ball on the Ravens' 33-yard line.

What they called: Personal foul on safety Ed Reed, unnecessary roughness, 15-yard penalty tacked onto the end of the play.

What actually happened: Reed led with his helmet, which struck Branch's helmet after he made the catch. This one is a no-brainer. The league is cracking down on the enforcement of these hits.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: The 15-yard penalty moves the Patriots to the Ravens 18-yard line. New England would settle for a field goal.

 

Scenario: Fourth quarter, 6:55 remaining, 1st-and-10, Ravens ball on their own 20-yard line.

What they called: Offensive holding on guard Marshall Yanda, five-yard penalty.

What actually happened: Jermaine Cunningham beat Yanda inside, and the guard grabbed the defensive lineman's arm and threw him to the ground. Yanda was a holding machine on Sunday night, and all of them were valid.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: 10-yard penalty negates an incomplete pass, brings up 1st-and-20.

 

Scenario: Fourth quarter, 6:19 remaining, 2nd-and-14, Ravens ball on their own 16-yard line.

What they called: Defensive holding on cornerback Devin McCourty.

What actually happened: This was one of the worst calls of the night. Smith runs a deep pattern and McCourty stays with him stride for stride. The penalty was called likely as a result of frame three in the above sequence.

This elicited a two-word response from Collinsworth: "Wow...wow..."

Was this penalty valid?: No.

Consequence: Five-yard penalty gives the Ravens 1st-and-10 on their own 21, when the incompletion would have set up 3rd-and-14. The Ravens would go on to score a touchdown on the drive.

 

Scenario: Fourth quarter, 4:15 remaining, 2nd-and-goal, Ravens ball on the Patriots' 10-yard line.

What they called: Defensive holding on linebacker Brandon Spikes.

What actually happened: Spikes gets a great bump on Dennis Pitta in the five-yard window, jamming him off his route. In frame three, we can clearly see that Spikes' hands are well away from Pitta as the tight end crosses the five-yard "window."

Was this penalty valid?: No.

Consequence: This negated a sack by the Patriots and gave the Ravens a fresh set of downs at the five-yard line. The very next play was a touchdown.


Scenario: Fourth quarter, 2:28 remaining, 3rd-and-8, Patriots ball on their own 32-yard line.

What they called: Illegal contact on Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb.

What actually happened: There is definitely a penalty here, but it's not for illegal contact. The call should have been defensive holding. Webb clearly has a handful of Welker's jersey as the ball is coming in.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: Patriots get 1st-and-10 on their own 37-yard line.

 

Scenario: Fourth quarter, 2:23 remaining, 1st-and-10, Patriots ball on their own 37-yard line.

What they called: Unsportsmanlike conduct on head coach John Harbaugh.

What actually happened: Harbaugh went onto the field trying to call a timeout, and because the coaches were told not to get carried away with the officials, this is a penalty.

With the way the officiating has gone to this point, I don't blame him.

Was this penalty valid?: No.

Consequence: The 15-yard penalty helps the Patriots advance the ball into Ravens territory. 

 

Scenario: Fourth quarter, :52 remaining, 3rd-and-9, Ravens ball on the Patriots 34-yard line.

What they called: Defensive pass interference on cornerback Devin McCourty.

What actually happened: No excuses on this one: McCourty got beat deep and made way too much contact as the ball came in. This is the penalty that iced the game for Baltimore, allowing it to kick the field goal in the final seconds to win it.

Was this penalty valid?: Yes.

Consequence: Ravens get 1st-and-goal from the Patriots 7-yard line.

 

Wrap-up: Two of the Patriots' 10 penalties were deemed valid after further review.

The Ravens committed 10 valid penalties out of their 14 total.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the impact the officiating has had on these games, but an in-depth analysis shows that the calls they made were hardly justified. Of the 24 penalties the officials called, just 12 were valid.

After further review, it's not far-fetched to say the Patriots lost this game in large part due to poor officiating.

If Monday night's debacle in Seattle wasn't good enough, the fact that the officials only got 50 percent of the penalties right in this big game between AFC heavyweights should be the tipping point.

And just imagine if we went in-depth to point out the calls they missed.


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.

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