The referees absolutely played a huge role in shifting the momentum of drives- but that doesn't absolve the Patriots from allowing the Ravens to win the game.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready to move on to next week. While the Patriots, just like in Week 2, didn't do enough to deserve the win, this week felt more of a result of external circumstances that pure inability to perform. The Patriots truly flopped against the Cardinals- I think they showed up enough against the Ravens where I'm not too upset with the outcome.
What I am upset about, is the performance of the referees- and I'm sure you'll be hearing this on repeat until next weekend. Here are my thoughts:
1) People remember the Julian Edelman call for offensive pass interference. However, the Ravens defender never turns his head to look at the ball and, in fact, grabs on to Edelman's neck to stop his momentum as Edelman changes direction. Sounds like faceguarding to every single Patriots fan ever, but not in this game. Edelman makes the catch, but the play is called back.
Result: Instead of a first and ten on the 13 yard line, well within the red zone, the Patriots face a third and 21 on the 40 yard line- barely within field goal range.
Verdict: Ridiculous call that shouldn't have been made, the Patriots wound up with 3 points on the drive instead of a potential 7. Definitely impacted the shape of the drive.
Bonus: Even more ridiculous was that Edelman was called with offensive PI, yet Torrey Smith was able to get away with a push off directly in front of an official for a touchdown.
2) Somehow Jerod Mayo can be called for Pass Interference 2 yards down the field- even though it's well within the 5 yard contact limit. And, you know, I'd be fine if he made some ridiculous contact; instead, he just stuck his man like glue. The kicker is that the guy highlighted in red threw the flag, even though the guy in green had a clear view. I'm sure the guy in red had the better angle, right?
Result: Ravens go from a 4th and 6 on their own 20 yard line to getting their 1st first down of the game. Ravens get some momentum and score on the drive.
Verdict: The Patriots had plenty of opportunities to force a stop after this gift of a first down, so they deserve plenty of blame for not stopping the Ravens. Still- the drive should have ended.
3) Devin McCourty's holding call. What? The flag was thrown before they made it to the sideline as the ref called holding as they started the play. Torrey Smith fakes a step outside and cuts inside, dipping his head. McCourty guides Smith in front of him and as soon as Smith dips his head, the flag is thrown.
Result: Instead of 3rd and 14 on their own 14 yard line, down 9 with 6 minutes to go, the Ravens get a fresh set of downs. They eventually move down the field and score.
Verdict: Like before, the Patriots had plenty of opportunities to generate a stop and were unable to do so. Blame falls on the defense although, like before, the refs shouldn't have altered the face of the drive so greatly.
4) Brandon Spikes called for a hold to negate a Kyle Love sack after the Ravens drove down the field on the same drive as above. The play starts on the 10 yard line, and somehow Spikes is called for holding, even though the only contact was within 5 yards and after that distance, Spikes was no where near holding him.
Result: Instead of a 3rd and goal on the 19 yard line, the Ravens get a 1st and goal on the 5 yard line.
Verdict: Come on, that clearly changes the drive. While the Patriots could have stopped the Ravens after McCourty's phantom holding call, the Patriots could do little after the new set of downs.
Bonus: Oh, so Spikes was called for a hold? Literally the next drive, Rob Gronkowski and Ray Lewis interact in the same exact way that Spikes and Dennis Pitta engaged- 5 yards off the line of scrimmage, the linebacker jams the tight end. Oh wait, did I say the exact same way? No, sorry- Ray Lewis actually tried to tackle Gronk during his route. And he got away with it too.
So don't fall into the trap of false equivalence. Just because one of the worst calls of the game (Unsportsmanlike Conduct when Coach Harbaugh was calling a time out) went against the Ravens, doesn't mean that the magnitude and impact of the penalties was in balance. The Patriots definitely got the short end of the stick.
In the end, though, the Patriots didn't do enough to win. Both the offense and the defense was unable to close out the game when they were given the chance and the coaches absolutely deserve some of the blame for their decision making (Sitting Vince Wilfork to close the half? Sitting Chandler Jones as the game closed? Not throwing to Gronkowski? Lots of issues). The Ravens definitely won the game- it's just that the refs placed themselves in the center of attention far too often for my liking.
That's it from me- on to the keys for the game:
5. Defensive Test - No, I can't say they passed. They were unable to contain Ray Rice (and a really low impact day by Brandon Spikes definitely played a part) as he contributed 150 total yards and a touchdown. The Patriots gave up big play after big play with five different Ravens receivers each notching a 20+ yard play. The Ravens have an extraordinarily balanced and traditional offense that features an outside receiver (Torrey Smith), a possession receiver (Anquan Boldin), a speedy receiver (Jacoby Jones), a versatile tight end (Dennis Pitta), and a lethal running back (Ray Rice). They're for real.
While I wasn't expecting the Patriots to shut out the Ravens, the defense definitely collapsed after the first quarter. Let's see how they rebound next week.
4. Making ST Special - Special teams did not allow for any really big plays against them- for that, it counts as a win. Stephen Gostkowski rebounded nicely with three field goals and Zoltan Mesko showed some improvement after a slow start to the season. The return game still lacks luster, although the coverage unit definitely needs to improve its consistency.
Fitting that they lost on a chip shot, though.
3. No Huddle - It seems as if the No Huddle didn't really have an impact. The Patriots opened the game in the no huddle and gained -1 yard (yes, minus one yard) and a fumble on their two plays. The Ravens responded with their own no huddle and went three and out.
Actually, according to NFL's playbook, both teams operated out of the no huddle until the end of the fourth quarter when the Patriots tried to slow the play and milk the clock while they held a two point lead. Looking back, that seems pretty ridiculous because of how late the game ran, but that's how it was- no huddle after no huddle.
It seems as if the no huddle was effective in spurring on the offense, but bad play calls reduced effective drives into stand stills. Better coaching and maybe the no huddle will become more of an advantage again.
2. Where's Welker? - Oh how Wes Welker broke through against the Ravens. Notching 8 receptions for 142 yards, Welker set a personal best against Baltimore and nearly doubled his Patriots total in this rivalry.
Additionally, Brandon Lloyd had a quiet 9 catches for 108 yards, providing the second most productive day for a Patriots receiver against the Ravens. Not a bad showing.
1. Hurt By Hernandez - Of course, one of the main issues was replacing Aaron Hernandez's production. Short answer: they didn't. Beyond Welker and Lloyd, no other player broke 30 yards receiving- and the imbalance definitely impeded the offense. The Patriots will have to find a way to replace Hernandez's lost production if they wish to get back on track and take back the division.
Will say, it's always nice to be right, especially when predicting the impact of Danny Woodhead; while he wasn't really effective in the running game, he kept the defense sort of honest- and he provided plenty of help in blitz pick-up.
As we wrap up this game, the Patriots have already moved on to Buffalo where they hope to take a win against the Bills to start their division season on the right foot.