BUFFALO - The Patriots are 1-2. Playing Sunday in Buffalo without Logan Mankins, Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman and with a less-than-perfect Gronk, the chance that the team ends this day 1-3 is probably 50-50.
Their margin for error over the final 12 games will shrink even smaller.
The truth is, they have themselves to blame for their losses. They could have won the Arizona game by converting a makeable field goal. They could have closed out the Ravens game on offense. They could have made a play to keep Baltimore out of game-winning field goal range on defense.
Still, damage was done to New England by the replacement officials. The hold on Gronk wiping out Danny Woodheads fourth-quarter touchdown run against the Cardinals was a game-changer. Repeated defensive holding and pass interference calls that extended Ravens scoring drives allowed points to be scored against New England.
If the real officials were on the field and those calls were made, it would be easier for the players and coaches to swallow. Not easy. But easier.
However, the fact that fake refs made repeated bad calls that directly impacted the score leaves a scar. The losses can impact everything from home-field advantage to future employment for players and coaches. Theres no way to measure the ripple effect.
So when Robert Kraft told ESPN after the settlement that I think this is a minor blip and now we move on, you have to wonder how that comment flies with the coaches and players. Because the blip, Im sure, doesnt feel too minor to them.
If youre like me (you have my pity), you like to consider yourself an armchair expert on fineable hits. Somebody gets lit up, you get your impression in real time and then wait for the replay to see how defenseless the target was and where he was contacted. You understand that the geometry and physics of the game lead to unavoidable head and neck shots. That some shots are actually CAUSED by the offensive player. But you know the rules.
And then you have Ray Lewis, who this week tried to claim Ed Reed driving a shoulder into Deion Branch was legal.
Reed turned his head to the side and clearly hit Branch with his shoulder pad. Those things cannot affect the way this game is played. And then the saddest part about it is when you hear other people say, Oh, those are the rules. For real? Thats not the rules. The rules of this game is, Do whatever you gotta do, by any means necessary.
So were how many years deep into the policing of hits on defenseless players and the NFLs most lionized linebacker has no clue what the rule is? Tell you what, if James Harrison said that, the NFL would be sitting him down for three games. Ray Lewis? Somehow he gets carte blanche.
I went hard on Devin McCourty last Sunday. Watching the game live, there were four glaring plays on which he failed. First, he didnt give proper support to teammate Steve Gregory on Dennis Pittas 20-yard touchdown, showing up ill-prepared to finish off Pitta if Gregory got beaten physically by a player who was 50 pounds heavier. Second, he dropped a simple interception early in the fourth quarter. Third, he got turned inside-out on the first play of the Ravens' last drive for a 24-yard gain. And fourth, he tackled Jacoby Jones on a third-and-9 play that turned a prospective 51-yard field goal attempt into a chip shot.
Somehow, there was great debate as to whether or not McCourty played well. There were plays on which he did his job well 14 times he was the primary cover man on balls thrown by Joe Flacco. He had four plus plays. He had six minus plays. He had four that were a mixed bag (good coverage on the dropped pick, an offensive holding that wiped out a play on which he had good coverage, a BS defensive holding on him and a touchdown allowed that was aided by an uncalled push off).
That there was debate about how well McCourty played shows how low the bar has been set for him. Meanwhile, Kyle Arrington was thrown at just five times. He had four minus plays.
The game in Buffalo is going to require Tom Brady to play at an extremely high level because of the shakiness of the offensive line in front of him. If hes less than an A, the Patriots probably wont win.
The Ravens already have a league-leading 15 big catch plays of 25 yards or more. The second-place team? Cincinnati, with nine. (The Ravens do have a game up on everyone, having played Thursday). The Patriots have six.
Hey. Peyton Mannings in Foxboro next week.
Brandon Lloyd is tied for 6th in the NFL with 33 targeted passes. Reggie Wayne is first with 40.
So far this season, Tony Romo is 12-for-12 when the game is late and close according to Stats LLC. Tom Brady isnt in the top 20. And the 20th is at 47.1 (Josh Freeman, 8 for 17).
Jamaal Charles leads the NFL with 11 stuffed runs. Stevan Ridley is tied for second with nine.