Replacements and Repercussions

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Replacements and Repercussions

Eye wuz trying to figger out the bess weigh to demmanstrate what its like to whotch an NFL gayme width replasemint refs, and this . . . iz the best that eye cood come up width.

Siriusly, izzent this seaux unbaleevvibly . . . distrackting? Izzent it sew torcherissly belaybered . . . . . . and drawn out?

Oops. Eye take that back . . . Uppawn further revyoo, ayed like to chainj "torcherissly" to . . . painsteakingly. Everyone ghet that? OK, good. Now if ewell excuse me . . . eye knead about five minitts to remember . . . what the hell I was tawking about . . .

. . . . . . . . . .

Ummmm . . . .

. . . . . . . . . .

OK, Im back. Mostly because I doubt you have the patience to put up with much more of that crap. And I guess you could say thats the biggest (and probably only) difference between this column and the NFL.

Youd click out of this page after a few pathetic, disjointed paragraphs and never come back. With the NFL, theyll keep trotting out 10th rate officials, destroying the leagues integrity and insulting your intelligence every step along the way, and youll never leave.

I know I wont. Honestly, there was a moment during last nights game when I really tried to imagine life without the NFL. I wondered if there was ever a situation where the ineptitude of these replacement refs would push me over the edge. Where I'd say: You know, this just isnt worth it anymore." and really mean it.

But theres no way.

And really, thats the most frustrating aspect of this whole mess. That the owners have us in the palm of their withered, old, money-grubbing hands, and they know it. We see Week 3 as another slap in the face. They see a slew of high-scoring classics, three overtimes and a Sunday night game for the ages. We see a league that doesnt care about its players or fans. They see record ratings and a bottom line that would make Mitt Romney blush. And that's obviously a huge problem. In fact, the replacement refs are currently the biggest problem facing this league which is saying something when you consider that other little issue of the game destroying its players' brains.

But here's the truth: As far as the Patriots are concerned, last night's refs are irrelevant.

A few months from now, when teams are scrambling for playoff spots and seeding, no one will care about last night's officials. There's nothing about that loss to the Ravens that will stand out among the countless other games that have been hijacked by this fiasco. Especially since it's only a matter of time before this fiasco is over. It might not happen today or this week or next week, but I guarantee that at some point before the start of the playoffs, Ed Hochuli and his boys will be flexing all over an NFL field near you.

At that point, these first few weeks will be a distant memory, and the only legacy of last night's game will be the final score. That the Ravens walked off with a victory. That the Pats didn't get the job done.

So, let's ask the real question: Why didn't the Pats get the job done?

Was it because of Devin McCourty? There were a few moments earlier this season where it was reasonable to believe that McCourty was ready to put last year's struggles behind him. Last night with his two dropped interceptions, the worst tackle attempt you've ever seen (on Dennis Pitta's touchdown) and his horrendous coverage on the game-sealing pass interference play McCourty looked more lost than ever. The player who was once thought to be the Pats best first round cornerback since Ty Law was back to looking like the worst since Chris Canty.

Was it a matter of Gronk? Rob Gronkowski was targeted only three times against the Ravens. It was only the second time since the start of last season that he finished a game with fewer than four targets. The other time? Super Bowl XLVI.

And has anyone seen Stevan Ridley? No disrespect to Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden. Neither is the reason that the Pats lost, and they both found the end zone. But here's the thing: A lot of NFL backs can do what Woodhead and Bolden did last night. You give any back in this league (aside from maybe Chris Johnson) enough carries and they'll make something of it. On the other hand, wasn't Ridley supposed to be special? A game-changer? A bonafide feature back that would revolutionize the offense and extend Brady's career into the next decade? A player who you'd probably want to carry the ball more than 13 times in the biggest game of the season and not lose snaps to an undrafted rookie out of Ole Miss?

Furthermore, what's going on with the offense in general? Tom Brady had 11 touchdown passes through three weeks last year. In 2010, he had eight after three weeks. Today, he has four. Four touchdown passes in three games and an offense that barely resembles the juggernaut we envisioned coming into the season. Does Josh McDaniels think he gets points for creativity? Why does he call these games like a stoned college kid playing Madden at 3 am on Saturday?

You know, we could go on forever with questions like this. And there's no doubt that we'll cover all that and so much more between now and next Sunday. After all, the Patriots are 1-2 for the first time in more than a decade. It's only natural to be pessimistic.

But that's only one way to look at it.

On the other hand, through all that pessimism, it's sometimes easy to forget that last night in Baltimore, the Patriots went out on the road against one of the best teams in the NFL in a stadium where the Ravens haven't lost since December of 2010 and were the better team for three quarters. They were the better team, despite playing the entire game without their most versatile if not most important offensive player, and the second half without their "No. 2" receiver. Things fell apart at the end, and there's no question that the Pats players deserve a bulk of the blame. But it's also so hard to take any outcome that seriously when these officials are involved. Yes, the Patriots lost. Week 3 of the 2012 season will always count as a loss. But all things considered, did the game leave you feeling that the Pats aren't on the Ravens level? Even in defeat, do you now consider the Patriots to be anything less than one of the top two or three teams in the AFC?

I don't. Instead, all I really take from last night's game and the first three weeks of this season is that the Patriots are an imperfect team playing in a league where no ones perfect. I mean, come on, look around. The Ravens lost last week in Philly and were insanely close to losing at home to a Hernandez-less Pats team. Yesterday, the Steelers lost to the Raiders. The Jets barely beat Miami. The Chargers were destroyed by the Falcons. The Texans are still going strong, but can they stay healthy? Given their track record and the fact that their quarterback's ear just fell off, I'd say the chances are pretty slim.

I'd say that I'm just as confident in the Pats at 1-2 as I would be if any number of calls or bounces had gone their way last night and they sat here this morning at 2-1. That doesn't mean the loss doesn't burn like a flame-thrower to the brain . . . just that New England's Super Bowl aspirations were unscathed in the blaze.

Itz juss two badd wii kant seigh the sayme about tha replasemint reffs.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

It came against a rookie quarterback. It came against an offense that averages a league-worst 15.0 points per game. It came against an offense that has fewer yards than any other. 

Still there are signs that Bill Belichick is pretty pleased with where his defense is after beating the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. One came on Wednesday when Patriots.com published its "Belichick Breakdown" for a closer look at a handful of plays from the team's most recent win.

Belichick called his team's third-and-eight stop with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter "probably one of the best good, team defensive plays we've had all year."

The Patriots show a five-man front, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy feigns a rush only to drop into coverage.

"Van Noy in here does a good job on the rush," Belichick said, "and also on the coverage on the back. Just good team defense. Good pass coverage down the field. The quarterback really doesn't end up having a lot of time, but there's no one to throw it to right away."

Belichick noted that all four rushers -- Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich -- all are able to pressure Jared Goff on the play. Combined with strong coverage in the secondary, the Rams nver really had a chance.

Belichick said it looked like a "tidal wave" of defenders bearing down on the quarterback.

"Long wins here . . . on the inside spin," Belichick said, "and Trey Flowers and Hightower both win on the little twist game inside. Then that's Rob with good speed-to-power on [Rams tackle Rob] Havenstein on the outside. Four good rushers. Plus a fifth guy...Van Noy getting that two-for-one on the guard and the back.

"Good team defense. That's great to see. A lot of hard work an execution on the practice field to make that happen."

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

FOXBORO -- They sounded like a couple of old pals. 

First it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who spoke of Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a conference call like one of his favorite fellow lacrosse dads.

"John and I saw a game a couple of years ago, a [Johns] Hopkins vs. Maryland game," Belichick said, adding that Harbaugh's love for the sport is just starting to blossom. "Yeah, I think John is seeing the light."

Belichick added that the two might be closer if they weren't competing so often, both in-season on the field and for free agents in the offseason. 

"As you know, we get into a situation like we’re in now where they have a good team, we have a good team, we’re playing a big game on Monday night," Belichick said. "Both teams are going to do everything they can to compete as hard as they can on Monday night. That’s what it is and that’s what we all signed up for. We all know that’s a part of it.

"When we’re not going head-to-head, which isn’t very often because we compete against each other in the offseason, we compete against each other to build our team and so forth, it just puts things in a little bit of a different situation."

During his press conference with reporters on Wednesday, Harbaugh echoed Belichick's sentiments. Belichick was famously one of Harbaugh's biggest supporters earlier in his career, calling the Ravens on Harbaugh's behalf when the franchise was looking for a new head coach. And if only they weren't so frequently competing against each other, they might be even closer, Harbaugh indicated. 

"I feel like we have a good relationship," Harbaugh said. "Like you said, we're probably not socializing that much, but I don't know how many coaches really do. We're all so busy. I'll see him or any coach at the Combine or at the owner's meetings, and we have a chance to talk. It's always good. I have a ton of respect for him. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great coach -- greatest coach of this generation. He's earned that title.

"And I study him. I've always studied him. I've always studied coach Belichick from when I first met him when I was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, and he came in and just was great to be around.  [We have a] similar background with the special teams and that sort of thing. All of that kind of goes out the window when you compete against one another. It's like anything else, you want to win. I'm sure he feels the same way."

The recent history between their respective franchises is rife with emotion: There was Baltimore's irate reaction to Belichick's unusual formations in the AFC Divisional Round two seasons ago; there was the Ravens' supposed involvement in sparking Deflategate; and there was Harbaugh's subsequent denial. But Belichick and Harbaugh made it sound on Wednesday as if all's good between them.