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Bengals are “always baiting everyone” as officials lose control of Patriots game

The officials are to blame for an ugly fourth quarter between the Patriots and the Bengals.

The Patriots can claim that the Bengals started it when LB Vontaze Burfict threw a low hit on TE Martellus Bennett. The Bengals will claim that the Patriots started it when TE Rob Gronkowski ran his mouth.

I’m not sure it really matters because there are three universal takeaways:

1. Burfict (#55) should not have thrown that dirty hit on Bennett (#88) for all of the reasons former NFL player Matt Chatham lists here.

Burfict doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt after his suspension for similarly dirty hits, but he was helping Bennett up at other points in the drive, so it might have been move driven by idiocy instead of one with malice.

Burfict also shouldn’t have stomped on RB LeGarrette Blount’s leg as evidently happened here. I’m still not 100% sure Burfict stepped on Blount, but the linebacker definitely wades into the pile and initiates contact with Blount (#29) from behind:

Edit: Burfict totally stepped on Blount’s foot if you watch this GIF closely.

Burfict stands on Blount’s foot (red shoe) and then locks Blount’s ankle in between his own. Here is the GIF zoomed in.

Blount’s foot is clearly stuck between Burfict’s legs and it appears like Burfict’s foot is on Blount’s toes. Blount is also unable to stand up because Burfict has his ankle at an awkward angle. Burfict has been fined for messing with ankles in the past, so he will not get the benefit of the doubt.

2. Blount definitely shouldn’t have messed with the helmets of the Bengals players. In the above GIF you can see Bengals DT Domata Peko (#94) talking to the official after Blount pushes S Shawn Williams (#36) back. Williams was clawing at the ball trying to force a fumble at the goal line, but Blount responded with this:

This wasn’t the first time Blount went after Williams’ facemask, either.

After Williams bodyslammed Blount to the ground here, it appears the safety got himself off the ground by pushing off of Blount. Blount took offense, but inexcusably responded like this:

3. The officials let this get out of hand and they did a questionable job over the course of the game. How they picked up the flag after Blount reached under the helmet is beyond me. Everyone knows that the Bengals- specifically Burfict- play with a hot head on defense and the officials should have been on the look out, even if the Patriots were instigating.

“It always gets kind of chippy with the Bengals,” QB Tom Brady said Monday on WEEI.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention Bengals CB Adam Jones or Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. Neither player did anything that crossed an egregious line.

Burfict claims Gronkowski was standing over Adam Jones and “was like, ‘How’s that s--- feel, little guy?’,” and that’s why the Bengals took offense. Gronkowski seemed to be throwing it back after Jones was jawing off to Gronk after the tight end was called for a false start. Jones gave it right back after QB Tom Brady missed Gronkowski in the end zone.

Gronkowski wasn’t surprised about the exchange of words.

“They do that every game,” Gronkowski said about the Bengals. “If you watch film, they’re always baiting everyone to do that. They’re a tough, physical team. They’re physical football players. They’re big, and they hit hard. I feel like that’s the style that they play, so I kind of gave into it when I got my penalty, and I’ve got to watch out for that, but after that, I just had to stay away.”

Gronkowski also claims that he “did not see” the hit on Bennett “at all,” so that didn’t play a part in his heated exchange.

“We were just playing football, man,” Bennett said about the fighting after the game. “It gets like that sometimes. We’ve got guys who don’t back down from anyone and play hard throughout the whole game. That’s just the way it is. We don’t back down. We’re not looking for trouble, but we don’t walk away from trouble either.”

It’s up to the officials to pull everyone back when players start getting too chippy, but it seemed like the officials were willing to throw flags at non-penalties, while picking up flags for unnecessary roughness.

Here was the “illegal use of hands” that went against Patriots CB Logan Ryan on 3rd and 2 and resulted in an automatic first down:

This is pretty clearly a jab to the shoulder and not the “neck, face, or head.”

And I’m pretty sure Patriots fans would be livid if the holding call on Bengals RT Cedric Ogbuehi that set up LB Dont’a Hightower’s safety when against New England- because that’s exactly how Patriots fans reacted when TE Martellus Bennett was flagged for holding after man-handling Chandler Jones in week 1 the way Ogbuehi dominated Rob Ninkovich.

And while the holding on Jones on 3rd and 12 halfway through the 4th quarter was pretty obvious, the illegal contact on CB Dre Kirkpatrick on 3rd and 18 right before the half is more eye-rolling than anything. Both plays resulted in automatic first downs and the Patriots scored on both drives.

Then there was that taunting call against Gronkowski that I’m 99% sure the officials got wrong. I’m not saying that Gronkowski shouldn’t have been flagged, but I’m pretty sure that the Patriots shouldn’t have faced 1st and goal from the 23 yard line.

Per the NFL rule book (emphasis added):

Rule 14, Section 4, Article 9. DEAD BALL FOUL

A Dead Ball Foul is a foul that occurs in the continuing action after a down ends, or a taunting foul that occurs at any time. The penalty for a Dead Ball Foul is enforced from the succeeding spot, and the down counts.

Item 1. Dead Ball Foul by Team A. If there is a Dead Ball Foul by Team A after a down in which Team A has made a first down, after enforcement of the penalty it will be first-and-10 for Team A.

Since the Patriots got the first down, the correct subsequent down and distance should have been 1st and 10 from the Bengals 23 yard line.

After messing up this call, the officials messed it up in favor of the Patriots on their next drive, by calling a face mask penalty against Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick and not Patriots WR Julian Edelman, setting up the Patriots for a 1st and goal from the 7-yard line and effectively ending the game.

There’s no dispute that Kirkpatrick violated the rule: “No player shall grasp and control, twist, turn, push, or pull the facemask of an opponent in any direction.”

There also shouldn’t be a dispute that Edelman violated the same rule (and the NFL asked officials to put additional focus on facemask penalties committed by offensive players in 2011).

And I think this last play is what left such a foul taste in the mouth of Bengals fans. Kirkpatrick was flagged for the same facemask penalty that Edelman got away with. Blount had his hand inside the helmet of a Bengals player and the officials picked up the flag. It felt like the Patriots were getting away with everything the Bengals were getting flagged for.

This isn’t to say that the officials were overly biased in one way or another- just that they were disappointing as a whole, missed calls on both sides, threw potentially game-changing flags against both teams when the player did everything right, and allowed tempers to rise to the point where players on both teams could have been seriously injured.