Wedge Issue: Replacement refs could leave scars

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Wedge Issue: Replacement refs could leave scars

At this rate, Bill Belichick is going to wind up on this week's injury report with a tongue.

How much longer will he be able to bite down and resist unleashing an expletive-laden torrent of disbelief at what's passing for professional football in 2012?

The debate over who's right between the owners and locked-out officials is moot to the men who spend each week scheming, planning and pouring their lives into trying to win on Sunday.

And it's moot to the employees underneath the coaches - the assistants and the players - from whom the head coaches demand performance and focus from under unworkable conditions.

To the coaches, the game matters. A mud-wrestle over a pension plan? Indignation over locked-out officials who've gotten too haughty and need to be shown who's boss? The brand, the brand, the brand? Expansion into Europe? An overseas game in London? Thursday night games for every team?

That's not the coach's department. The game is where it begins and ends.

So now why are they banging their heads against the wall to prepare for games that will be butchered and left to the whims of some guy whose job interview must have consisted of proving he could blow a whistle and throw a Kleenex?

The inability of the owners and officials to come to an agreement has invaded the coach's work environment and - by extension - is putting coaches jobs at risk. Sunday night's game against the Ravens was altered throughout by the replacement officials. Monday night's game between the Packers and Seahawks? Even worse.

Phantom calls beget calls that are ignored, beget retribution, beget disrespect, beget chaos.

By the end of it Sunday night, Belichick was pinwheeling around the field, clutching in vain at an official's arm while trying to get an answer to what the hell was going on.

I wouldn't want to be Robert Kraft right now. He's got the greatest coach of this generation, arguably of all-time, having to mea culpa on Monday afternoon for grabbing one of the stand-in boobs that Kraft and the other owners have put in position to make a mockery of the game.

Bill Belichick has "screw you" money and he's got "screw you" influence. And he knows that Kraft - who had the clout to bring the players and owners through last summer's lockout - could probably hasten this resolution in a hurry if he brought his considerable influence to bear on the situation.

But admitting defeat now, admitting that they underestimated the importance of the real officials (as I did until last week), is not in their DNA.

They will not be forced to acquiesce at the point of a media or fan bayonet. The owners and the league are going to iron-fist this thing, first with the officials and second with any coach or player who doesn't toe the line.

Sunday night's game between two teams that will quite likely jockey for playoff seeding and the right to host home playoff games and get to the Super Bowl was left in the hands of hall monitors.

Remember that if and when the Patriots are on the road in Baltimore or Houston in the AFC Championship game. Because you can believe Bill Belichick will.

And with millions on the line and a chance to advance the "brand" with a trip to a Super Bowl, you can bet Robert Kraft will too.

Patriots release DT Darius Kilgo, reportedly sign WR Griff Whalen

Patriots release DT Darius Kilgo, reportedly sign WR Griff Whalen

The New England Patriots have announced that they've released defensive tackle Darius Kilgo. 

The move creates an opening for wide receiver Griff Whalen, who they have reportedly signed to a one-year deal, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Kilgo, a sixth-round pick out of Maryland in 2015, did not make an appearance for the Patriots after being claimed off waivers from the Broncos last week. He played 81 snaps for Denver this season.

Whalen, 26, played in two games for San Diego in 2016 where he caught two passes for a total of 22 yards. 

The former Colts wideout is perhaps best remembered in New England for his part in Indianapolis' disastrous fake punt against the Patriots last season.

 

 

 

John Harbaugh: Ravens’ trickery different than Patriots ‘deceptive’ formation

John Harbaugh: Ravens’ trickery different than Patriots ‘deceptive’ formation

FOXBORO – John Harbaugh explained on Thursday the difference between the rules loophole his Ravens exploited recently and the one the Patriots exploited in the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff Game that caused him to cry, “Foul.”

What it boiled down to? Everyone knew about the loophole the Ravens took advantage of when they committed an en masse holding penalty at the end of the game against the Bengals. 

Nobody had seen what the Patriots successfully pulled off when they made eligible receivers ineligible and vice versa and went on a touchdown drive that changed the tenor of the game.

“You’re right. I don’t want to get into all that,” Harbaugh said when I asked what the difference was. “That’s all been hashed out. I believe what I believe and I think it’s all been proven to be right.

“The point about [the punt hold] is, it’s been talked about, it’s been looked at, it’s been something that’s been used for 20 years so it’s nothing new,” he explained. “It’s nothing that hadn’t been addressed before by officials or the competition committee.”

Harbaugh said that, in Super Bowl 47, his Ravens used the tactic and his brother Jim, coach of the Niners, took it up with the Competition Committee. John Harbaugh supported the change, he said. The league declined.  

“Everybody knew about that so it didn’t create an unfair advantage for anybody,” said Harbaugh.

LISTEN: New Quick Slants podcast w/ more stories of Ravens antics

After the Patriots beat Baltimore in a tremendous game, Harbaugh was in a snit in his postgame press conference alleging the “nobody’s ever seen that [eligible-ineligible trickery] before.” He said the play was “illegal” and “deceptive.”

I mentioned that Alabama had run the play in a nationally televised game against LSU and that the Titans had done the same thing on a game-ending play against the Jets a few weeks earlier.

Aside from whether or not the information was accurately communicated by the officials, the tone of Harbaugh’s comments left little room for interpretation. He indicated the Patriots were underhanded and that his comments seemed to discredit New England.

“That was not the intent and if you go back and read my comments at the time and the tone of it anybody that takes it that way is taking it the wrong way,” said Harbaugh. “That was not the point of it at all. You had an eligible receiver that wasn’t identified and an ineligible receiver that wasn’t identified as such. The official had no way to identify that for the defense so there was no signal or any other way that they could do that. That was something that was addressed the very next week. If somebody wants to look at it some certain way, that’s not my concern.”

When I offered that referee Bill Vinovich not only identified Shane Vereen as being ineligible but added, “Don’t cover 34…” over the stadium mic, Harbaugh wasn’t having it.  

“That’s not something that had ever been gone over,” he insisted. “Players were never taught don’t cover that player. When you’re on the field, you can’t hear that microphone. That’s not something you can even hear or are listening for. The next week there was a tweak.”

Indeed there was. And not just with the officials then being on the hook to make more detailed announcements. The further tweak, perhaps spurred by the formation chicanery and Tom Brady’s recommendation that Baltimore “study the rules” came when the Ravens passed on intel to the Colts for the AFC Championship Game. One of the recommendations from Ravens special teams coach Jerry Rosburg was to watch that the Patriots’ sideline staff didn’t monkey with the kicking balls. That was included in a letter to NFL Operations man Mike Kensil along with an allegation that it was “well known around the league” that the Patriots deflate footballs before the game and that the league needed to keep an eye on that.

Harbaugh hasn’t hidden from the fact he found Brady’s comment offensive.

"I was pissed off," he said this past summer. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed...So yeah, that should never have been said."

He has, however, disavowed any talk by his staff about the Patriots allegedly deflating footballs. "Any conversation that was had with the Colts had nothing to do with deflated footballs, which is what we've been saying since the very start," Harbaugh said in 2015. "I know that we've answered the questions from the beginning to the end very simply. Our yes is yes. Our no is no. We've answered questions directly and honestly and straightforward from the start."

Whether the Patriots’ formation plays and the Ravens response to it led to a $30M investigation that hijacked the NFL’s attention for 20 months and resulted in a four-game suspension for Brady is still not definitively known. Could Rosburg and the Colts equipment man have possibly discussed kicking ball chicanery without sharing notes on the belief the Patriots deflated footballs? Rosburg and former Patriots defensive coordinator and current Ravens coach Dean Pees were both spoken to by investigator Ted Wells. What did they offer

Just like everything else between Ravens and Patriots, it’s complicated.