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.
Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe.
The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.
“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”
Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.
Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.
“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”
Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.
Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.
Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children. He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.
Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.
Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004. He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.
The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993.
In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.
“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”