This, of course, is the same Bill Belichick that classlessly ran off the field after the New York Giants ruined his Patriots perfect season in January, 2008. I didn't see the play, I nodded off during last night's game. That said the NFL does have a problem. I don't agree with everything Jackie MacMullan says in this piece, but I do agree with this:
Future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis was particularly bothered by a call late in the third quarter on safety Ed Reed, who leveled Branch on a play in the middle of the field with a bone-crunching hit. Had no flag been thrown, it would have been fourth down and New England would have punted. Instead, the Patriots were awarded a first down at the Baltimore 18-yard line. That possession led to a field goal and a 30-21 New England lead.
"You can't do that to the game," Lewis said. "You have to let the game take care of itself. One of the biggest plays of the game, you give them three points.
"There was no helmet-to-helmet. [Reed] turned his head to the side and clearly hit him with his shoulder pad."
The hit undoubtedly will be reviewed by the league office. Maybe fines will be forthcoming, maybe not. The problem is even when the call is correct, it no longer holds any weight, because nobody -- nobody -- believes the replacement officials have earned the authority to make it.
Okay, I almost agree with all of that. I would argue the call wouldn't hold weight regardless of how well the replacements did for the past three weeks because almost nobody was willing to give them a chance. That said, no, they're not up to the caliber of "the old refs" as one NFL player put it. And whether it's their fault or not, they aren't respected by the players, the media and most of the fans. And that does indeed mean the NFL has a problem.