fb-pixel Skip to main content
Dan Shaughnessy

Replacement refs a nightmare in Patriots loss

Bill Belichick screams at official Rodney Russell after a first-quarter call went against the Patriots.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

BALTIMORE — There wasn’t a lot of good feeling or dignity at the end.

The Patriots blew a 13-0 lead. They blew a 30-21 fourth-quarter lead in the final four minutes. They lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 31-30, Sunday night on a buzzer-beating 27-yard field goal by rookie Justin Tucker.

The Patriots are in last place. They are under .500 for the first time since 2003.

And Bill Belichick might be in trouble with the NFL.

After a night of incompetent officiating — capped by perhaps one final bad call by replacement referees — Belichick reached out and grabbed at one of the officials as everyone was coming off the field in the postgame chaos at M & T Stadium. This is not likely to be viewed favorably by a commissioner who asked everybody to make nice with the substitute zebras.


Like a lot of the Patriots, Belichick was probably angry because he thought Tucker’s kick might have been wide to the right. It was difficult to make a call because the close-range kick sailed above the yellow upright.

When Belichick was asked about the officiating, he said, “I’m not going to comment about that. You saw the game. What did we have, 30 penalties called in that game? . . . You’ll have to talk to the officials about the way they called the game. Talk to the league about it.’’

Asked if he thinks he will be fined, Belichick answered, “No.’’

Not good, coach. You can feel the national football cognoscenti ready to pounce.

The Patriots were underdogs in this one. They were on the road, eyeball-to-eyeball with the Purple Menace in Baltimore. They had to deal with injuries, noise, the officials, and a nation ready to put them on life support.

For most of the night, it looked like they were going to do what they always do. They were going to silence an enemy stadium. They were going to put up and make everybody shut up.


They had that 13-0 lead after one quarter. They led by 9 in the fourth with just over four minutes to play. But they succumbed to Joe Flacco (maybe he is elite) and a Ravens team still smarting from January’s AFC Championship game loss at Gillette Stadium.

There was obvious irony at the finish. The Ravens sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl eight months ago when Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt. Cundiff is now with the Redskins and rookie Tucker is kicking for the Ravens. Tucker did not miss. At least, the refs said he didn’t miss.

It was a little odd that the Patriots were the ones beefing at the finish. The Patriots were slapped with 10 penalties for 83 yards. Baltimore was flagged 14 times for 135 yards. Ravens coach John Harbaugh picked up an unsportsmanlike flag with less than three minutes to play.

But in the end it was the Patriots who went into a rage. Vince Wilfork was among those who thought his team was robbed by the final call.

The situation with the NFL’s replacement officials has moved past the tipping point. As Larry Lucchino would say, it’s time to bring back the “varsity.’’

There is no flow to the game with these officials. There seems to be a dustup after every whistle. In September of 2012, NFL players are like high school students taking advantage of substitute teachers. They are pushing the limits. They are pushing one another. Sometimes they even shove the officials.


Sunday’s embarrassment was played in front of 71,269 witnesses and a national television audience. Al Michaels, Bob Costas, and the NBC folks no doubt are expecting a ratings bonanza.

But the game was choppy, much like last week’s 3-hour-27-minute “Monday Night Football” abomination featuring Denver and Atlanta.

Downtown Baltimore was bustling Sunday afternoon.

Walking past Camden Yards on the way to M & T Bank Stadium, I had flashbacks from last Sept. 28 when the Red Sox melted into a puddle of sorrow in the shadows of Eutaw Street.

New England fans who made this trip were easy to spot; they were the only ones not dressed in deep purple. This is Ray Lewis Nation, with a few Flacco and Ed Reed jerseys sprinkled into the mix.

Olympic legend Michael Phelps was on the sideline an hour before the game. While Phelps posed for photos and the public address system played “Born to Run,’’ the Baltimore-Washington Parkway was jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.

The crowd went wild when the Pittsburgh-Oakland final score (Raiders, 34-31) was posted. These folks really hate the Steelers.

Oh, and they hate the Patriots, too.

Flacco and the Ravens did not have a first down in the first quarter. But they recovered nicely. Flacco was elite down the stretch and the Patriots could not stop him. It was the defense we all feared last year.


The Patriots are going to make the playoffs. But we will panic anyway because that is what we do.

The last-place Patriots are looking up at the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.

And their coach is probably going to be getting a call from the league office.

Patriots haters across the land have a new weapon to use against New England.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.