BALTIMORE — Somewhere between penalty No. 1 and penalty No. 3, there was an ominous sign that Sunday night’s game was going to be New England’s personal case against replacement officials. The game was marked by 24 penalties totaling 218 yards. It got so far out of control that Patriots coach Bill Belichick tried to chase down umpire Ali Shetula after the game, wildly bumping into him as Shetula tried to get off the field with the rest of his crew.
It will be something the team will remember for a long time. But if there is any small comfort in the performance of the officials Sunday night, it’s that their poor calls overwhelmingly affected the Baltimore Ravens.
1) The Ravens, as do the Patriots, have a legitimate beef with the league over the officials Sunday night — Lardarius Webb’s illegal contact on Wes Welker (that didn’t happen) and the subsequent interception it negated, followed by the unsportsmanlike conduct on the Ravens bench for arguing the call, was just a baffling display of officialdom. Add to that the bungling of a penalty on a punt by the Ravens that almost led to the penalty being tacked on improperly after the kick; Courtney Upshaw’s phantom personal foul on Tom Brady; Julian Edelman’s offensive pass interference; And the numerous holding calls that left your head scratching. This was a tough one for all three sides. There’s no way the league, despite Belichick’s bump and Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s pestering, can excuse away the performance of the scabs. It was an atrocity for a national television audience to stomach.
2) The secondary is not where it wants to be right now — For all the talk about improvement after last season, including having a healthy crew with Patrick Chung and Ras-I Dowling this season, there was no escaping the unit’s dismal performance Sunday night. Joe Flacco carved them up for 382 yards and three touchdowns, doing most of his damage down the field and toward the sideline. Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith both averaged more than 20 yards per catch. Sure, Steve Gregory came away with an interception. Devin McCourty let two interceptions slip through his hands and Kyle Arrington could have had another on the last drive. Those missed opportunities, and the inability to matchup well one-on-one with speedy receivers, is cause for concern going forward.
3) Outside of Chandler Jones, the Patriots are having trouble getting any pass rush — It couldn’t have been more evident down the stretch as Flacco had tons of time to pass the ball. When he was sacked for a loss in the fourth quarter by Kyle Love and Chandler Jones, it was called back after a defensive holding on Brandon Spikes. That erased what would have been the team’s only sack of the night. Not all pass rush needs to equate to sacks, but between Jones, Love, Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich, the group needs to alter enough plays to throw opposing quarterbacks out of rhythm. That didn’t happen against Flacco, who had plenty of time to look down field and find his receivers.
4) With Aaron Hernandez out, the Patriots are instantly a spread offense — It was almost a given that we were going to see more Wes Welker Sunday night, especially after Aaron Hernandez sprained his ankle against the Arizona Cardinals. Welker was targeted 10 times, catching eight passes for 142 yards. He played the majority of his snaps in three and four-receiver sets alongside receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon Lloyd. And when Edelman and Lloyd were hurt, with Deion Branch and Matthew Slater. Between the three, though, they accounted for 29 targets by Tom Brady. As the game wore on, you could tell having three receivers on the field de-emphasized the teams’ tight ends. Rob Gronkowski had three targets and only two catches for 21 yards. Gronkowski was relegated to blocking mostly to help with the Ravens’ front seven.
5) Julian Edelman had an up and down night — The Patriots’ new starting wide receiver was used on screens, rushed the ball twice on reverses (one of which was poorly conceived), and finally caught a ball down field. Before leaving the game with a hand injury, Edelman had been targeted seven times and caught four passes for 28 yards, including a touchdown, his second offensive touchdown of his pro career. The numbers would tell you he had a decent game. But they don’t take into account he was flagged for a false start and offensive pass interference (that shouldn’t have been called), hurting the Patriots at different points in the first half. It seems things still need to be smoothed out with Edelman, but it does appear he’s here to stay.