Sunday nights Ravens-Patriots match-up was a tight game decided in the last seconds for a 31-30 Baltimore victory, a fitting rematch to the AFC Championship Game, with an incredibly heartbreaking storyline of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith putting in a huge performance less than 24 hours after learning his brother had died in a motorcycle accident.
But what were we hearing about through much of the NBC telecast? The officiating.
In the fourth quarter, when the Patriots were called for one of those phantom defensive holding penalties, NBCs Cris Collinsworth let the replay sink in for a moment before saying: Guys, keep negotiating.
Collinsworth was referring to reports that the NFL and its locked-out officials were in labor talks on Sunday, an encouraging sign. Certainly more encouraging than what we saw from the men in stripes at M&T Bank Stadium.
There were a total 24 penalties accepted 14 for 135 yards on the Ravens, 10 for 83 on the Patriots. Eight of New Englands 33 first downs came via penalty and five of the Ravens 28.
Patriots coach Bill Belichicks frustration boiled over after the game ended, and he grabbed at an official as the ref was running off the field. Perhaps he wanted to protest that Justin Tuckers game-winning field goal had missed wide right. Belichick told the media he didnt want to talk about the officiating. "I'm not going to comment on that," Belichick said. "You saw the game. What did we have, 30 penalties called in that game?"
Belichick also said he didnt think hed be fined by the league for making contact with an official. Its hard to believe hes right about that.
Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes vented on Twitter after the game: Can someone please tell these ------- zebras foot locker called and theyre needed Back at work!!!! BreakingPoint
The officials did not have control of the game for a big chunk of the first half similar to what we saw during last weeks Ravens-Eagles game. The Ravens and Patriots were pushing and shoving and tugging at each other after the whistle multiple times.
Though the pass interference against Jacoby Jones that set up Tuckers final field goal was indisputable, little else was when it came to calls in pass coverage. The wild inconsistency was maddening. Muggings that drew no flag. Tag-youre-it contact that resulted in yards marched off. Illegal contact or defensive holding or pass interference all mixed up.
In the NBA, we know the refs arent going to be consistent, but at least we understand how it works: If youre LeBron, you get the call, but if youre Kris Humphries, you dont. We defy anyone to explain how the replacement refs are making their calls.
The crowd in Baltimore was loud throughout the night and loud and clear in the second half when the fans responded to a call with what euphemistically is termed a barnyard epithet. It came across clearly on television.
So, do you think the NFL is happy about any of this happening on their biggest stage of the weekend? If any game can at least nudge the needle toward a settlement with the NFL Referees Association, this was it.