There were many factors within the New England Patriots’ control that led to their fourth-quarter collapse and 31-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
Some, however, didn’t see it that way. At least one Patriots player, and many Patriots fans behind him, deflected the blame to the NFL’s most popular scapegoat: the replacement officials.
In the early hours of Monday morning on the East Coast, shortly following the Patriots’ loss, starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes took to Twitter to express his apparent displeasure with the game’s officiating.
Can someone please tell these fucking zebras foot locker called and they’re needed Back at work !!!! #BreakingPoint— brandon spikes (@BrandonSpikes55) September 24, 2012
Many fans were behind the sentiments Spikes shared via social media. Comments from B/R readers who joined the postgame conversation on my Patriots report card for Sunday night’s game included those that said the game was “fixed,” or that it featured the “worst officiating ever.” (Keep in mind that all of this happened before the controversial Packers-Seahawks game on Monday Night Football.)
The Patriots, however, shouldn’t be blaming the men in stripes, regardless of their qualification, for losing to the Ravens. They should be blaming themselves.
Legitimate factors that led to the Patriots’ loss to the Ravens include:
1. Big Plays Allowed By The Pass Defense
The Patriots’ pass defense allowed Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to pass for 382 yards on Sunday. The Ravens had nine passing plays of 20 yards or more, including three on their final two scoring drives, and also picked up a 27-yard pass interference penalty against Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty which set up the 27-yard game-winning field goal by Justin Tucker.
Any time a team gives up that many passing yards and that many big passing plays, their chances of winning the game drop significantly.
2. An Inability to Stop Ray Rice
Ravens running back Ray Rice had a field day against the Patriots’ defense on Sunday. Rice ran the ball 20 times for 101 yards, and also had five pass receptions for 49 yards. Therefore, Rice had a total of 150 yards on 25 touches—an average of six yards per touch, a tremendous figure for a running back.
3. An Inability to Finish the Game Strong Offensively
A field goal by Stephen Gostkowski in the first minute of the fourth quarter gave the Patriots a 30-21 lead, but from that point forward, the Patriots’ offensive efficiency hit the skids.
The Patriots completed four first downs on their final two drives, but two of them came as a result of consecutive penalties, and they were forced to punt on both drives, which kept the score within reach for the Ravens. The Patriots only had five minutes and 21 seconds of possession in the game’s final 14:10, which left the Patriots’ vulnerable defense on the field more than they should have been.
4. No Establishment of a Rushing Offense
The Patriots ran the ball 34 times on Sunday, but only gained a total of 77 yards. The Patriots had a horribly weak average of only 2.3 yards per carry for the game, and Stevan Ridley’s 14-yard run in the third quarter was the team’s only run of more than seven yards in the entire game.
5. Brandon Spikes
Since Spikes decided to call out the officiating, his play will also get singled out. Spikes may have taken it to the public forum to blame the referees for the team’s loss, but he was in denial when he should have taken some self-blame.
Spikes failed to establish any presence at middle linebacker during the game, which was a big reason for Rice’s easy success. Spikes was also at fault for one of the Ravens’ big passing plays, when he lost containment of Ray Rice on a short pass out of the backfield and allowed Rice to scoot past him on his way to a 27-yard gain.
Spikes received an overall grade of -4.8 from Pro Football Focus’ premium statistics for Sunday’s game. That grade was the worst that any Patriots player received for Sunday’s game, and is the second-worst grade that any inside linebacker has received for a single game through the first three weeks of the season.
It is easy to understand why Spikes and many fans immediately turned to blaming officiating for the Patriots’ loss. There has been no topic of bigger controversy or anger through the first three weeks of the NFL season than the officiating quality of the acting referees serving in place of the regular, full-time but currently locked-out NFL officials.
There were some questionable penalty calls made in this game, including a defensive hold called against Spikes, which nullified a sack one play prior to the Ravens’ fourth-quarter touchdown.
Judging by the emotions of head coach Bill Belichick both during and after the game, it appeared that he would also place some blame for the loss against the officials, but you can be assured that he will not say that publicly.
However, while there were questionable calls made in this game, those calls went both ways, and at the end of the day the Ravens were actually called for more penalties (14 for 135 yards) than the Patriots were (10 for 83 yards).
And while the game’s final play was immediately called into question, as Tucker’s game-winning field goal appeared to only be within the right upright by the narrowest of margins, the result would not have changed even if the kick had been reviewable, since there is no evidence that shows that the ball did not cross the goal post within the plane of the uprights.
That 27-yard field goal should have been an easy make for Tucker anyway. The Patriots did not lose the game because of the field goal being ruled good, but because they put themselves in the position to lose on that field goal by failing to execute in the fourth quarter on both sides of the ball.