That said, an unforgivable mistake by an official crushed their chances of having a chance to win when they were somehow very much in contention late in the fourth quarter.
Rob Gronkowski caught a pass in the end zone, but the official incorrectly ruled he hadn’t crossed the goal line. It was a difficult call, but the official made the wrong one. Rather than challenge the play, the Patriots stayed in a no-huddle, so CBS couldn’t show a replay, meaning Patriots coaches couldn’t see a replay.
Brady took more than 30 seconds off the clock while setting up the next play. That play, a short completion to Kevin Faulk, didn’t work.
The Patriots ran another play (defensive penalty) and then one more before finally scoring. At that point, 1:35 had been run off the clock since Gronkowski scored, thereby forcing Bill Belichick to call for an onside kick that ultimately failed. You know all this.
The problem isn’t that the official missed a call — they miss a lot of calls. The problem is that the official didn’t call the play to the standards established by the new automatic review system.
Every single scoring play is reviewed in the NFL. On a close play at the goal line, the on-field official has to make a ruling that calls for the score. If he makes a mistake, it will be corrected via replay. If he gets it right, then he got it right. It’s a no-lose situation to rule the play a touchdown. The right call will eventually be made.
You can’t say the official needs to make the call that he is sure of, because in this case, you’d have the official absolutely sure of something that was absolutely wrong.
Going back to the beginning of this, the Patriots didn’t deserve to win, so maybe the official’s mistake was a karmic decision by the universe. I’m fine with that, but the official will need to explain that one to his boss on Monday.
Let’s dissect that situation a little further, and then get into the remaining leftover thoughts from the Steelers’ big win over the Patriots.
–I don’t think Belichick should have challenged the Gronkowski play. There’s no way the coach could have seen it from field level, standing on the sidelines on the opposite side of the field, probably 45 yards from the play. There’s no way his assistants could have seen it up in their box because A) they were up in the sky and B) there was no replay until well after it took place.
If Belichick were to challenge the play, it would’ve been based on hope or just a gut guess. Belichick just doesn’t coach his team that way, and in the long run, that’s a good thing.
–Remember when he stupidly challenged based on his gut that the Giants had 12 players on the field during Super Bowl XLII? That’s the last time I remember him making such a call. (Sorry for mentioning Super Bowl XLII. That’s always a low blow.)
–Still, if you think there was enough time on the clock that made a challenge worthwhile, I don’t think you’re a fool. I just know I wouldn’t have challenged that play if I were calling the shots.
–Speaking of calling the shots, I was surprised to see dozens upon dozens of NFL head coaches on Twitter after Stephen Gostkowski‘s epic failure of an onside kick attempt. The kick was terrible, obviously, but you had to try the onside there. Had to. The defense had come up with one stop all day. To think the Patriots’ defense could magically rise up and make a stop with the game on the line is a much crazier thought than thinking the kickoff team could recover the onside.
–If Brady wanted to save time while calling that next play, he should have just yelled, “You know that play we ran on fourth-and-2 in Indy? The one that didn’t work? Yeah, we’re running that one again! On two!!”
–On a more serious note, my guess is that Brady wanted to run the quarterback sneak after the Gronkowski play, but the Steelers showed him something he didn’t like. Brady’s success rate on the QB sneak is unofficially 100 percent by my tally (excluding Rex Ryan‘s timeout in 2007 in Baltimore), so he knew it wouldn’t work and then he had to improvise. In hindsight and after watching the replay though, he’d have been better off running the sneak and saving time. Just look:
–If anything should chap the buttocks of Patriots fans it’s the third-down defense. Third-and-15, converted. Third-and-12, converted. Third-and-anything, converted. The Steelers were 10-for-16 on third downs. The Steelers had the ball for more than 39 minutes. Heath Miller had six catches for 78 yards in the first 10:21 of the game.
That’s the ballgame, folks.
–Like a lot of other people, I thought the Patriots would win by 10. Miller’s explosion early on is a big reason why they didn’t. I saw the Patriots clamp down on Antonio Gates (zero catches), Dustin Keller(one catch, seven yards) and Jason Witten (four catches, 48 yards, one touchdown) this season, and I expected to see more of the same on Sunday. Rather than continue that effort on Sunday, the Patriots appeared to try the “Leave the Dangerous Tight End Uncovered” defense, which you don’t see many teams use.
–Maybe (definitely) I’m a grumpy old man on the inside, but I’ve always been against touchdown dances. That’s mostly because there can be pictures like this of you after you lose. Awkward.
–The surprise cut of Leigh Bodden definitely was weird, but I was amused at how great he had become between Friday and Sunday, as many people asked how exactly the 30-year-old cornerback could be any worse than the guys on the field. I’m not saying I think cutting Bodden was a great move, but I don’t think Bodden would’ve helped on Sunday. There hadn’t been one good thing said about Bodden all year until he was cut.
–While Faulk couldn’t score on that third-and-goal from the 1-centimeter line, it was nice to see him back to his old ways out there. It just doesn’t feel right watching the Patriots without No. 33 lined up next to Brady.
–Is the crown of Ryan Clark‘s helmet the NFL’s equivalent of Matt Cooke‘s elbow pad? The sign when you enter the city should say “Pittsburgh — cheap-shot artists welcome.”
–Clark was flagged for a late, helmet-to-helmet hit out of bounds, yet it took a while for the official to throw the flag. That’s because the late, helmet-to-helmet, out-of-bounds hit was on Gronkowski (or Mankowski, as he’s known in this column), who just bounced off Clark like the behemoth he is. You can cheat all you want, but you can’t hurt Gronkowski.
–The league also needs to institute a new statistic for Gronkowski called YCAPOYB, short for yards carrying another player on your back. He twice offered Steelers free rides, with Troy Polamalu hopping aboard for the funniest one of the day.
–Speaking of Polamalu, he might be the only player in the NFL who can launch through the air with his hair flying everywhere, tackle a receiver around the head and twist his facemask in the middle of the field without getting a flag thrown. It took “blatant” to a whole new level, but because he’s a high-intensity guy with a giant mane and a Head & Shoulders sponsorship, officials can’t see his facemask penalties.
–When they write the book of the 2011 season, I hope it opens with a page that only has Albert Haynesworth‘s “sleeping giant” quote, followed by his final stat line for the season. It’s impressive for such a large man to be invisible for so long.
–This week’s “Fun Quote From a Broadcaster” comes from Phil Simms: “He was a little shooken up.”
–This isn’t Patriots-related, but a friend of mine called me more than a month ago telling me that I’d need to work “Orton hears a Suh” into a story after Ndamukong Suh inevitably sacked Kyle Orton this week. Unfortunately, though, it was Tebow Time, so I didn’t get the chance. Though I guess I just kind of did.
–Not to be a complete downer, but I watched with abounding incredulity as Tony Romo threw a shovel pass on third-and-goal a couple of weeks ago, and I watched with unmitigated amusement as the Jets put forth a truly sad offensive effort the week before. Some folks celebrated the Patriots’ defense for a turnaround, but I just thought the Pats were in trouble should they ever face a real NFL offense.
On Sunday, they met a real NFL offense, and they got whooped. They rank 32nd in passing yards allowed per game (323.1), and the next closest team allows 288.90. They rank 32nd in total defense with 424.1 yards allowed per game, and the next closest team allows 402.9
If you have that sneaky feeling that it’s 2009 and 2010 all over again, then I don’t have too much to say that can really make you feel better. Not right now, at least.