BALTIMORE, MD -- The mob's cries against NFL replacement officials crescendoed Sunday night.
There are 24 penalties in the books for New England's 31-30 loss to Baltimore. The Patriots were forced to swallow 10 for 83 yards while the Ravens took 14 for 135. There was one penalty on the Patriots that was declined. So that's a total of 25 flags thrown.
"It seemed as if every ball that was thrown was a flag," said Patriots defensive captain Vince Wilfork.
"It's very frustrating. But what can you do? When you're an aggressive defense, it takes away from the aggressiveness. Things that we try to do, they take it away. You hesitate to do this, do that -- not do it, whatever. But we have to play within the rules."
Do the players feel the rules are clear this season?
"I know what the rules are," Wilfork scoffed with peaked eyebrows. "But it's not up to me. I'm not the one throwing flags."
Officials are always vilified; the replacements were doomed to fail from Day 1. Worst case scenario, though, was for them to do so beyond a reasonable doubt.
Not every game has been awful. But there have been flubs enough that last week Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, and Bernard Pollard all hammered replacement officials. Pollard went so far as to say these stand-ins are "messing up the integrity of the league."
Bill Belichick kept quiet in his postgame press conference, but literally grasped for answers in the game's more immediate aftermath. The coachtried to engage an official after the game by grabbing him on the way to the locker rooms.
The referee ignored him. The league may not ignore Belichick making contact with an official, however.
"I'm not going to comment about that," Belichick said in the presser. "You saw the game. What did we have, 30 penalties called?"
Even when a door was opened for the game's stuttering tempo to be blamed on the officials, he wouldn't walk through.
"It's our job to go out there and control what we can control. That's what we're going to try to work on. Can't control anything else. Talk to the officials about the way they called the game. Talk to the league about the way they called it."
Wilfork was more open about being bothered.
One play in particular set him off: Baltimore's game-winning field goal. Wilfork thought the kick was so close it should have been reviewed.
"Just to run off the field... From my angle it looked very close," he said. "So I was frustrated at that. A lot of things I was frustrated about.
"They have to review it. I mean, you have to. A game like this, you have to. But they ran off the field."
That call is one the refs got right.
According to Jim Daopoulos, who spent 11 years as an NFL on-field official and 12 as an NFL supervisor of officials, field goals are only reviewable if the ball is inside the uprights.If the ball sails over, as it did in Baltimore, there's no way to check because there's no reference point.
But from Daopoulos' view at NBC's Football Night in America studio, the Patriots had other reasons to gripe.
"The players can't play the game," Daopoulos said. "Brady cant play the game. He doesnt know what the calls will be. He dont know what's going to be holding, doesn't know what's going to be pass interference. It makes it so hard for them to play the game in any consistent way."
So what do the players do? Sunday night, Wilfork shrugged. What else could he do?
"It is what it is, man," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and pick a fight with those guys. They have a job to do, we have a job to do. All we can do is play better and not be in those situations. We'll see how it goes from there."
Eyes all over the country will be watching.