Replacements and Repercussions

Replacements and Repercussions
September 24, 2012, 4:35 pm
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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