In Quoth of the Raven, “Bull$#!%”

The Ravens were making news this week in the aftermath of their 15-10 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati for what they considered to be egregious calls against their defense.  One was a roughing the passer call on DE Terrell Suggs; the other was a tripping penalty on MLB Ray Lewis.  Both occurred on the Ravens’ side of midfield. Both bailed the Bengals out of unsuccessful third-and-longs. Both put them into field goal range.

Considering that the Bengals nailed those field goals providing the needed margin for victory, I can certainly understand Baltimore’s initial frustration.  At the time of the penalties, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was absolutely incensed.  His fiery display of frustration cost him 15 large in fines after having “improper physical contact with an official.”  He later had the ‘pleasure’ of having to express remorse for his behavior and defend the league.  I know coaches love doing that at press conferences.

Of course Suggs and Lewis both added their two cents after the game, asserting that the Bengals would have never scored on those drives; that they didn’t earn those decisive six points, and therefore didn’t deserve the victory.

I love that kind of one-dimensional, linear thinking.  After all, Suggs and Lewis know exactly what would have transpired had those plays gone the other way.  Two super geniuses like that can confidently extrapolate how the remainder of the game would have played out based solely on 2 plays out of 100.  Who needs Stephen Hawking?


Look, I’m not here to defend the refs or the calls, nor do I want to give the Bengals a free pass on Sunday’s game.  Baltimore did a heck of a job against the Bengal offense, and they made enough plays to win the game.  Too bad their offense didn’t.

I am also quite willing to concede that the Ravens seem to get more than their share of screw jobs by the referees.  They’ve seen it happen to them over the last several years in big games against the Steelers, Colts, and New England.  Heck, they had a few last year in their home loss to Cincinnati. Eerily similar in fact.

I won’t waste time reviewing the frame-by-frame replay of the two plays.  It’s pointless. It doesn’t change the outcome of the game, and it doesn’t change how the players will play.  If you’re interested in that, former (I stress “former”) NFL Director of Officiating Mike Pereira’s got you covered. Pereira, who went into retirement early, at least in my opinion, to avoid having to explain this kind of thing on a weekly basis, came out on the side of the purple protesters.

“While referees are instructed to err on the side of safety when it comes to protecting the quarterback,” Mr. Double-speak said, “I feel the call was incorrect.”

And therein lies the problem, folks.  He “feels” it was incorrect.

I’m not sure if the calls were accurate in the letter of the law, and I don’t know if they were correct in the spirit of the law either. And the fact is that neither do you, John Harbaugh, Mike Pereira, or the zebras throwing the flags themselves. That’s life in a sport that has a certain level of subjectivity in its officiating.

When you have twenty-two 250 pound athletes running around at light speed in 22 different directions, officials are forced to make judgment calls on what they see with their eyes at game speed.  They’ll see what they see in those 3 to 5 seconds a play may take and do their best.  They don’t have the luxury of reviewing it frame-by-frame, and they can’t go back and change their minds. And, as Pereira noted, it’s not even cut and dry for them.  It’s apparently something like this: Watch for roughing (as defined in the rulebook), but look for form tackling (as defined in the rulebook), then check the placement of the defender’s head, see if he’s pushing down with the full force of his body, and if all else fails err on the side of the quarterback. Can you do all that 100% correct in 3 seconds?

But that’s life.  That’s the way it is, and the way it always has been.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was quite correctly unmoved by Baltimore’s exasperation.  He rightly pointed out that his team has suffered as many bad calls as anyone else.  The Bengals have lost their fair share of ballgames on questionable interpretations, and he can rattle them off easily. He even alluded to a pass interference non-call in the end zone in that same game.  That likely cost Cincinnati 7 points.

What does that do to your linear thinking Ray?

I’d also argue that Baltimore’s defense is a swarming and intense group that feeds off of intimidation and hard hits—a reputation well-deserved and admired.  But it’s difficult to revel in that reputation and not recognize that the officials make note of that.  In other words, maybe this comes with the territory when you’re beating people up and shutting people down.  It’s a great thing to have on your team, but it gives you a reputation that will affect opinions.

Which gets me back to the subjectivity factor.  It’s unavoidable.

But there’s no sense dwelling on it now.  These are things players and coaches cannot control.  Instead, they should be focusing on what they can control—like not throwing four interceptions for one thing.

There are 15 weeks still to play, and the Ravens aren’t the first or the last team to feel they got gypped on a bad call.

Just ask Calvin Johnson.

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2 Responses to “In Quoth of the Raven, “Bull$#!%””

  1. Jason says:

    Great article Eric. I think what’s frustrating for defensive fans is that these ticky-tack fouls ARE subjective and a blatant attempt to increase offensive production.

    Ray Lewis’s hit on Dustin Keller to end the Jet’s game was a highlight moment, but he makes hits like that all the time and sometimes he gets flagged and sometimes he doesn’t. I’m starting to think that the common factor is not how he hits but who he hits. Dustin Keller-who cares? Let it slide. Austin Collie on a 3rd and long that prevented a touchdown? 15 yards and an automatic first!

    But back to QB protection, the league can talk about how they’re trying to protect the QB and all that BS, but to my untrained eye it looks less like subjectivity and more like out right favoritism.

    I mean, didn’t Kevin Kolb just lose his job to Dog Killer because he was drilled into the ground and suffered a concussion? Why wasn’t that called for roughing the passer? Last year didn’t Aaron Rodgers take a brutal helmet to helmet shot to the face that forced him to fumble and lose the game? Why wasn’t that called? Yet Tom Terrific gets a flailing elbow to the dome and it’s unnecessary roughness. I don’t want to sound like a whiny b!atch, but I’m a fan of defenses and it kills me to see calls that should be made (to protect the qb) not get made and yet ticky-tack fouls get called that ruin the integrity of he game.

    And it’s interesting you mention how good defenses might have to suffer under the burden of there own reputations by the Zebras, because there’s a certain division rival that I respect but loathe and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them get called for helmet-to-helmet, roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness or any controversial defensive call. Just saying…

  2. I feel the same way. It’s not the first bad call that’s happened and it won’t be the last.

    Certainly I know as well as anybody that those calls didn’t lose the Ravens the game, their offense did plenty to stop them from getting a win on Sunday.

    But Jason brings up a point that most of us know but don’t want to admit in public. It’s not so much the hit but often who is hit. The high profile players, in this case quarterbacks, get the calls to ensure that they live to put up points another day. I’d rather not re-live the infamous “touching of the helmet” by Tom Brady last year that sent him into a spastic rage and when he got the call he stood up and clapped.

    It’s terrible but it is what it is. We’d like to think that there are one set of rules and that they apply to every player. But it just isn’t so.

    My attitude is , if you don’t want the officials to decide the game then dominate the opposition and leave no doubt. Then it doesn’t matter.