Game Day: The replacement stench lingers

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Game Day: The replacement stench lingers

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.

Quick hits:

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.

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams hold off 49ers for wild 41-39 win

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams hold off 49ers for wild 41-39 win

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Coach Sean McVay walked into the postgame news conference and immediately asked, "Anyone have a beer?"

He probably wasn't the only person who wanted a drink after watching a surprisingly thrilling Thursday night shootout between his Rams and the San Francisco 49ers that wasn't decided until Los Angeles prevented a potential game-tying 2-point try and then delivered a rare defensive stop after blowing the onside kick in a 41-39 victory.

"We talk about mentally tough, be your best regardless of the circumstance," McVay said. "I thought the players did that. They found a way in spite of some of the ups and the downs to come away with the win."

While the defense came up big late, it was the offense that carried the day for the Rams (2-1), who have gone from the lowest-scoring team in the NFL a year ago to a dynamic one through three games under McVay.

Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns, Todd Gurley ran for 113 yards and scored three TDs and Robert Woods (108) and Sammy Watkins (106) each topped the 100-yard mark receiving in Los Angeles' second 40-point performance of the season. The Rams have 107 points in all so far, the second-most in franchise history after three games to the 119 by "The Greatest Show on Turf" squad in 2000.

"Since I've been here we haven't been able to do that," Gurley said. "Hopefully we can keep putting points together, keep working together and keep learning from this. I think we left a lot more points off the board."

This win didn't come easy as the Rams nearly blew a 15-point lead, giving up two late touchdowns, fumbling a kickoff return and failing to recover an onside kick. But Los Angeles managed to stop a potential game-tying 2-point conversion on a deflection by Troy Hill and then used an offensive pass interference penalty against Trent Taylor and a fourth-down sack by Aaron Donald to stop the Niners after the onside kick.

The 49ers (0-3) scored five touchdowns after failing to get any the first two weeks but still came up short in part because a missed extra point by Robbie Gould forced them to try for 2 on their late touchdown.

"I just rushed it, I missed it, I made a mistake," Gould said. "Obviously, I wish I didn't do that, or we'd probably be playing in overtime right now.""

This time it was a tired defense that hurt San Francisco. After facing 79 plays in a 12-9 loss at Seattle on Sunday, the 49ers appeared to run out of gas on the short week as Goff frequently had wide-open receivers, especially on third down.

The Rams were 8 for 12 on third down, including all three of Goff's touchdown passes.

The Rams needed all that offense on a night where Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.

QUICK START: The Rams took just 12 seconds to get on the board as Nickell Robey-Coleman intercepted Hoyer on the first play from scrimmage and returned it to the 3-yard line. Gurley ran it in on the next play to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.

"I just told him to start over," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Got to go back to work. We didn't change anything, went right on with the script. But it was a tough way to start out."

DROUGHT BUSTER: The 49ers came into the game without a touchdown on the season but broke through in the first quarter with some help from the Rams. After Blake Countess jumped offside on a punt, the Niners took advantage of the second opportunity and drove to score on Hoyer's 9-yard run 126:43 into the season. That was the longest it took a team to score its first TD since 2006 when both Tampa Bay (143:03) and Oakland (127:10) took more time.

FOURTH DOWN CALLS: Both teams drove to the opposing 1 on their opening drives of the second half with help from a Willie Mays-style basket catch by Watkins and a perfect toe drag on the sideline by San Francisco's Pierre Garcon. But the Rams opted to kick a short field goal, while the 49ers went for it and converted on Carlos Hyde's 1-yard run that cut Los Angeles' lead to 27-20. Hyde added a second 1-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

INJURIES: Rams S Lamarcus Joyner left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. ... Los Angeles C John Sullivan injured his groin in the second half and Watkins and Tavon Austin left with concussions. ... 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (concussion), FB Kyle Juszczyk (neck), DL Tank Carradine (ankle) and LB Brock Coyle (concussion) all left with injuries in the second half.

UP NEXT: The Rams travel to Dallas on Oct. 1. The 49ers visit Arizona.

Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?

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Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST.

0:41 - Tom E. Curran breaks down the ‘blueprint’ to beat the Patriots and if the Texans have the talent to do it.

5:27 - Michael Holley and Kayce Smith discuss Kyrie Irving’s comments that he made on Early Edition about going back to Cleveland for the opening game. 

9:52 - We take a listen to what Malcolm Butler had to say about his role on the team and discuss how the cornerback keeps saying all the right things. 

15:18 - Michael McCann, Legal Analyst for Sports Illustrated joins BST to talk about Aaron Hernandez’s brain found to have CTE and his family now suing the NFL and the Patriots.