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Nitpicks & Nitwits: Let the players play, and get out of the way

Let them play.

Last week, we began referring to the phenomenon of "ol ' ugly is better than ol' nuthin'" when it comes to officiating in the NFL. The refs are professionals, right?  They are trying their best, aren't they?  Before you come to a definitive conclusion on their worthiness to blow (a whistle) for a living, consider the reality here.

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Referees are part-timers.  And teams accustomed to winning are big targets for everyone else in the NFL, a league predicated on parity.  You won't find any tears shed for the loss of a Patriots' winning streak.

Would the league be better off if officials were full-time employees?  Any one player, coach, fan or follower of a team suffering at the hands of a pack of stampeding, wild zebras will surely tell you "yes."  Especially if they've just been flattened by a preponderance of flags, or had their season trampled – and Patriots' fans have definitely been trampled by yellow flags the past couple of weeks.

While there weren't any inadvertent whistles Sunday night – not that we could tell – there were several calls and flags littering the Mile High field that left plenty of people wondering what in the world has this game come to?  In particular, there were two calls that pretty much skewered any chance New England had of running the table to this regular season, or even winning this particular game in Denver.

Both appeared to be errors in judgment upon further review:

  1. A 4th quarter, offensive pass interference penalty on Rob Gronkowski that overturned a 10-yard completion on 3rd and five, and eventually led to a punt.
  2. Defensive holding on safety Patrick Chung that wiped out a sack for the Patriots' defense, and would have forced the Denver offense into a tougher chance at a touchdown.  They scored on the very next play.

There has long been a standard in officiating athletic events for referees to allow the athletes the opportunity to decide the outcome of a particular contest.  Swallow the whistle unless an egregious error or penalty occurs?  Absolutely. 

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But that didn't happen in the above cases.

The fans pay to see the players play. They don't come to see the refs throw a flag, blow a whistle – or a call.  As a one-time football and basketball official myself, I never wanted to be seen as influential in any way toward affecting an outcome.

Has that standard changed? The pressure to do "what's right," with bigger, stronger, faster athletes involved, has sadly become too much for many middle-aged officials to bear.  The game is too fast; reaction times are too slow, extraordinary ability is met with skepticism and disbelief from mere mortals in black-and-white stripes following big plays. 

Oh, and the NFL is out to get the Patriots, too. 

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Not really, but I thought I'd throw that in there so the thought can fester in your head.  It sure feels that way today, doesn't it?

"It's unfortunate, because the only way you can beat the Patriots is if you take four of their top offensive players off the field, the officials have their hand in the game, and then you have to have some momentum switch because (Chris Harper) muffs a punt," CBS NFL analyst and former QB Boomer Esiason told 98.5 The Sports Hub listeners Monday.  "The officials were calling penalties all over the place, some legit and some not so legit.  I feel like the officials (last night) really let the game get out of control."

That's not what officials are supposed to do, and yet, no one within the league – or around the league – seems to mind that it happened at all. 

If you're not a Patriots' fan, you don't mind that it happened, either.  But just wait until it does happen, to your team.  Maybe it already has, and you simply haven't noticed.  It's inevitable – like an inexorable yellow tide washing over our stadiums and playing fields.

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Perhaps there are mixed signals being sent to the current crop of officials from within the league?  That's another potential problem, entirely.  Esiason referred to what he believes is a growing resentment by the officials toward Dean Blandino, the head of officiating in the NFL.  The refs apparently don't like his openness about mistakes that have been made, or crew changes and suspensions made by Blandino as a result of their poor workmanship.

At this rate, would replacement officials be any worse?  At least we'd know what we're getting.

"I don't want to sit here and cry about the officiating or sound like I'm doing that," Esiason added, "but when the game is on the line you have to let them play.  You just have to let them play."

Exactly.  What Boomer said. 

The best officials are the officials that let the players decide outcomes for themselves.

Problem solved.  Just let them play.

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Brady's being PO'd is a good thing

Generally speaking, playing with poise is a good thing.  Being under control, and IN control, of a situation usually bodes well when looking for a positive outcome in any given situation.

Unless you're Tom Brady.  And he says he's pissed off. 

"It was a very hard loss.  I don't think I've ever been so pissed off after a loss," Brady told listeners to his weekly appearance on WEEI-FM Monday morning.  "I think everyone felt the same way.  Hopefully we can use it as motivation going forward."

With the injury toll taking more and more regulars from the New England lineup, those in a position to play can use a dose of anger to help guide their way.  When you consider how the Patriots really lost to the Broncos – holding a two-touchdown lead early in the 4th quarter – it should make everyone plenty motivated to make amends.

"It's a tough way to lose a game, especially when we had some pretty great opportunities there throughout to close them out," Brady added.  "For a myriad of reasons, we couldn't quite make the critical ones when we needed.  When we did, it got called back or something like that."

Brady's "pissoffedness" didn't go unnoticed.  He spent some time voicing his displeasure with calls made (or not made) by referee Tony Corrente's crew Sunday night. 

Perhaps the emotion can be used as fuel for future fires?

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Suh sings a sad song

There was an expectation in Miami, before this season began, that a rebuilt and rejuvenated defensive line would help lead the Dolphins back into playoff contention.

It hasn't happened.  Not even close.  And yet, the highly-compensated Ndamukong Suh, a rather large reason behind Miami's defensive liabilities thanks to his own underperformance, apparently took his fellow defenders to task.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Suh told his teammates "I run this defense, I'm going to be here for the next five years, there is no guarantee any of you will be as well.  Only a handful of guys are good enough to play with me right now."

Was this leadership taking charge of a rapidly deteriorating situation in the locker room, or the rantings of a conceited madman?  Suh has had his share of notable antics, from dirty plays on the field to press conference rants off of it.  And then he took to social media to fire back at Rapoport after Miami's loss to the New York Jets Sunday, for reporting this story in the first place.

On Instagram, Suh said "On the internet you can be anything you want.  It's strange that so many people choose to be stupid."  #IanRapoport

A little research, some clarity and consistency in your play, and a little effort on and off of the field would go a long way toward deflecting criticism, Ndamukong  – not welcoming it.

John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is in his 23rd year as the Patriots' stadium voice.  Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 27 seasons and is a member of the *Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame*

Follow him on Twitter* - @JRbroadcaster*

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