There's a funny thing about the word "memorable:" it doesn't always connote something positive.
Sometimes we remember a particular event for being exceptionally lousy, something we'd just as soon forget but simply can't do it. As much as we might try to direct our thoughts elsewhere or wipe it from our memories, it has been branded solidly on our collective asses by the scalding hot iron of misery. There are quite a few of these events that me and my fellow Patriots fans will have to live with for the rest of our lives, and in the grand scheme of things, the Number 13 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2012 doesn't really cut all that deep. That said, though, it still stung like having to cut off a much-needed pee break mid-stream when it happened this past September. So let's get this one out of the way so I can get back to remembering better times.
But first, the list so far:
#20. The Patriots surprise everyone, sign
#19. The move up in the draft, select and in the first round.
#18. comes up with a huge 3rd down sack on , holding the to a field goal.
#17. picks off in the end zone to seal the game vs. the .
#16. A diving catch in the end zone shows off athleticism as well as his pearly whites.
#15. ’ forced fumble of to seal the game against the
#14. New England engineers an 7-plus minute drive to close out the Dolphins and clinch the AFC East.
And now, regretfully, here we have Unlucky 13:
13. Baltimore Beats New England 31-30 in a disastrous weekend of replacement reffing.
When the 2012 NFL season opened without a deal between the league and the NFLRA in place, we were all unsure how the ongoing referee strike would affect the outcome of the games and whether or not we would even notice that the refs were missing. However, it didn't take long to realize just how difficult officiating a professional football game is, and while those charged with replacing the official refs tried their best, they were nowhere near qualified to do so. The games suffered, the overall product suffered, and the NFL watching experience suffered tremendously. By the time Week 3 rolled around, both the players and the fans had had enough, and there was a pervasive vibe that it was just a matter of time before an incorrect call, a botched review, or a missed penalty would cost a team a game they should have won.
And while that particular scenario wouldn't play out until the Monday Night game of Week 3, that Sunday Night's matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots certainly didn't make any strides in instilling confidence in the replacement refs' ability. In a game between two teams that always play each other tough, with plenty of hard hits and chippy plays, what we ultimately got can only be accurately described as a massive, steaming pile of yuck.
Pretty much from the opening whistle, this game was an absolute nightmare. Phantom holding penalties. Nonexistent facemask calls. Unnecessarily long conferences about where to spot the ball. A ridiculous 15 yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct Penalty for trying to call timeout. At no point was either team allowed to settle into a rhythm and start getting a feel for their opponent, and the game just dragged on and on. New England was able to jump out to a 13 point first quarter lead, but Baltimore was able to answer back in the second to send the game into halftime with the Ravens only trailing 20-14. The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, and by midway through the fourth the Patriots were holding onto a 30-21 lead. Baltimore was able to battle back, however, and closed the gap to a mere two points as New England got the ball with a chance to put the game away. Unfortunately, in what would become something of a trend in 2012, the offense couldn't stay on the field and was forced to punt. Baltimore got the ball back with 1:55 left to play.
What happened next would be a point of contention for football fans for weeks to come. Starting from their own 21, Joe Flacco, trying something new and different, threw a deep right sideline pass to Jacoby Jones for a huge 24 yard gain. From there, Flacco decided to change up the playcalling and threw a deep right sideline pass to Dennis Pitta for 17 yards. With the ball at the New England 34 yard line, the Patriots D finally stiffened up, stuffing Ray Rice up the middle and breaking up a pass intended for Anquan Boldin. On 3rd and 9, Flacco dug into his bag of tricks and decided to show the Patriots a play they had never seen before, throwing a deep right sideline pass intended for Jones, but broken up by Devin McCourty. Unfortunately, McCourty got called for pass interference, and Baltimore had the ball on the seven yard line. A quick kneeldown and a field goal that barely squeaked over the top of the right crossbar later, the Ravens escaped with the game, and the replacement refs escaped to the locker room. A clearly irate Bill Belichick tried to flag down a referee to see if the play was in any way going to be reviewed, but there was no way he was going to stop any of the refs as they sprinted at full speed for safety. Ravens win, Patriots drop to 1-2.
A lot of fans pinned that loss squarely on the refs' shoulders, making the case that without a few key calls, particularly a nonexistent defensive holding call that kept a Baltimore drive alive and eventually led to a touchdown, the Ravens never would have been in position to kick that winning field goal. However, the fact of the matter is that neither the Patriots nor the Ravens came out on top of that game in terms of who got more calls. There were some absolute laughers that went in New England's favor, there were some absolute laughers that went in Baltimore's favor. Yes, it's rough to be on the losing end of a game like that, but that's also the kind of game that makes you feel equally as lousy when you come away with a win that will forever have question marks surrounding it. Ultimately, the better team won, as the 2012 Ravens were simply a superior team to the 2012 Patriots, but that doesn't make it any easier. We all had to deal with the team's first losing record since 2001, and Baltimore fans got the smug satisfaction of knowing they got one by the Patriots. And knowing that the loss was largely out of the team's control made it that much more difficult to swallow.
The real positive to take away from this game was that it, combined with that Monday night fiasco between the Packers and Seahawks, proved to be the catalyst for getting the regular referees back to work. Two primetime disasters that put the incompetence of the replacement refs on full display for the entire country to see had to have had a major role in forcing Goodell's hand a bit and making the necessary concessions for getting the qualified men back into position. By the time Week 4 officially got underway, the real referees were back to a standing ovation from crowds all across America, and that was pretty much the last we heard of them for the rest of the year - the way it should be.