BOSTON (CBS) — The madness just has to stop.

For the first time in my life, I watched an NFL football game and completely questioned its legitimacy. And instead of improving throughout the night, the officiating just got worse and worse.

This officiating issue is unique in that it is perhaps the only topic that actually unites fans of all teams rather than divide them. These officials aren’t favoring one team over another; they’re simply incompetent. And it’s impossible to watch.

For example: Ravens facing a third-and-6 from their own 22-yard line, Joe Flacco throws a pass at Ray Rice’s feet. Jerod Mayo was in coverage. Time to punt, right? Well, no. The officials somehow called pass interference on Mayo, even though there was no contact between the two. No matter, first down Ravens.

Eight players later: Third-and-13, Anquan Boldin gets pushed out of bounds by Devin McCourty at the New England 40 but stretches the ball out as far as he can. The ball is spotted a full yard short of the first-down marker. Time to punt again, right? Well, again, no. The referee stopped play for a measurement, even though the ball was clearly spotted one yard shy of the marker, bringing the game to a standstill for no reason whatsoever. During the long delay, we saw several replays, none of which showed any conclusive evidence that Boldin got the ball to the marker. Then, John Harbaugh challenged the spot. Then, somehow, John Harbaugh won his challenge, again, despite any conclusive evidence of the ball getting to the 38-yard line.

Three plays later, the Ravens were in the end zone. Twice the Ravens would have faced fourth down, but twice the officials bailed them out. And that’s just one drive.

It’s simply gotten out of hand, and while Bill Belichick will be demonized by those who hate him for his horrific and unseemly molestation of an official after the game (I refer to it as “trying to get a guy’s attention”), the fact is he would have been within his rights to clothesline the guy and then steal his wallet. These officials are terrible.

Let’s get into more on the officials, plus all the rest of the leftover thoughts from Sunday night’s 31-30 Patriots loss.

–Before the game, I saw this tweet from Jeff Howe: “The Ravens announce Bernard Pollard first during starting lineups.”

If you saw that and your stomach didn’t sink, then you lack human emotion, or you’re a Jets fan. (Synonymous, I know.)

–It was weird to see how the Patriots decided to phase out Wes Welker in this one. A 59-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter, 10 total targets, eight receptions, 142 yards … it’s just, if Belichick and Robert Kraft have conspired against Welker and are “phasing him out” of the offense, what was with this strategy? Seems odd. But hey, what do I know? I leave that for the real conspiracy theorists.

–Brandon Bolden scored his first career touchdown, which was nice, but the real story came on the ensuing kickoff, when returner Deonte Thompson was tracked down from behind by … Brandon Bolden. That’s so Patriots.

–Brandon Lloyd caught nine passes for 108 yards, but just to confirm Brady’s on the same page with Lloyd, the quarterback engaged his newest receiver in his patented head-butt bonanza during a break in the action. I’m sure some people don’t like to have their faces battered by their teammates, but when Tom Brady wants to head-butt your face, you have no choice other than to just kind of roll with it.

–There was a holding call on Rob Gronkowski on a play in which Gronkowski held nobody. It took away a first down. Two plays later, Brady got that first down when he connected with Julian Edelman for 19 yards. However, that first down was wiped away due to a phantom pass interference call on Edelman. There was a little contact between Edelman and Cary Williams, but if that was offensive pass interference, then there’d be no such thing in football as a completed pass.

The Patriots had to settle for a field goal.

–By my unofficial count, the officials called 471 defensive holding penalties on Sunday night, though I may have missed a couple. Ray Lewis flat-out tackling Rob Gronkowski, however, was not one of them.

img 1774 Bill Belichicks Ref Reaction Only Human And Other Leftover Patriots Thoughts

You can’t tell from the photo, because he’s being tackled, but Gronkowski doesn’t have the ball here. He’s just running a route. Getting tackled. No call, though.

–I was reading Sports Illustrated over the weekend, and in it there was a quick little feature on Jon Gruden as the Monday Night Football analyst. In that story, Cris Collinsworth sort of bragged that he’s not afraid to criticize players and coaches, something Gruden’s not really doing because he may have coaching jobs still in his future. Being willing to “cross the Rubicon” were Collinsworth’s exact words.

Well, Collinsworth really could have put his money where his mouth is and criticized these terrible officials at any point throughout the night. But he and Al Michaels wouldn’t say a word, instead sometimes opting for complete silence during replays which showed imaginary penalties being called. It would’ve been a decent time to cross the Rubicon.

–I didn’t appreciate the referee telling me at one point that “there was no flag on the play.” There most certainly was a flag on the play. I saw an official throw the flag on the play. It was yellow and it was bright. Now, there may not have been a foul, but there was definitely a flag. I’m no fancy scab referee, but even I know that.

–I also saw a flag or three when Ed Reed destroyed Deion Branch over the middle of the field. It looked like the officials were playing dodgeball with the Ravens players.

img 1773 Bill Belichicks Ref Reaction Only Human And Other Leftover Patriots Thoughts

Welcome back, Deion!

–The cameras and microphones caught Ray Lewis’ pregame pump-up speech, which is totally surprising, I know, because he usually avoids attention. But in his little speech, he said, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” So … does that mean the Ravens get to go to the Super Bowl now? Is that how that revenge works?

In this same speech, he told his teammates that if an opponent blocks them, it’s personal, so I suppose I shouldn’t try to find logic in it. It’s not exactly Rene Descartes-type stuff there.

–I’m not positive, but I believe Bernard Pollard was penalized 15 yards for “Being Bernard Pollard.” Frankly, 15 yards just isn’t enough.

–It sounds stupid to say now, just because it’s sort of a given, but man, Tom Brady is just so damn cool under pressure. The way he ran the no-huddle on that 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive, remaining composed in that crazy environment, making the perfect calls, etc. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s the type of reliability that tends to go overlooked in the 24/7 overanalysis of sports, where people call the radio to complain about 50-yard passes he throws that hit receivers in the hands.

The guy is outstanding at his job, and it’s important to appreciate that now, rather than long after he’s gone and you’re watching the next Jay Cutler heave up careless interceptions for the Patriots.

–In addition to being a quarterback, is it safe to say Brady is a full-fledged model at this point? I mean, just look at this pose. It puts Blue Steel to shame.

img 1764 Bill Belichicks Ref Reaction Only Human And Other Leftover Patriots Thoughts

–Say what you will about the officiating (and believe me, I think I’ve done that), but the officials didn’t drop two interceptions. That was Devin McCourty. The officials didn’t trip over their own feet trying to make an easy interception on the final drive of the game. That was Kyle Arrington. The officials didn’t give up 382 passing yards to Joe Flacco and 101 rushing yards to Ray Rice. That was all on the Patriots, who looked a whole lot like their 2011 selves in this one. That’s why they lost the game.

–To be clear, the awful officiating wasn’t one-sided. One of Lloyd’s first-down pickups came thanks to one of the most egregious push-offs these eyes have ever seen. These replacement officials are equal opportunity when it comes to ineptitude.

–Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory also pinned Dennis Pitta against the sideline but somehow forgot to tackle him:

img 1767 Bill Belichicks Ref Reaction Only Human And Other Leftover Patriots Thoughts

What are the odds to score a touchdown from this point? Maybe 0.003 percent? Pitta hit the lottery.

img 1768 Bill Belichicks Ref Reaction Only Human And Other Leftover Patriots Thoughts

— Rob Gronkowski was strong as a blocker, but as a receiver, he just seemed sort of out of it. He had two catches for 21 yards, and he gave his weekly “Free Gronk Ride” to Ed Reed, but he really wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game. I suppose this is because he signed his contract for more than the Pats hoped for and they’re starting to phase him out of the offense.

You could tell Gronkowski wouldn’t have a big game when the cameras showed him trying to figure out the words to the national anthem before the game.

img 1763 Bill Belichicks Ref Reaction Only Human And Other Leftover Patriots Thoughts

–It didn’t affect the game, but it was foolish for the Ravens to call timeout with 2:06 left in the game, with the Patriots facing a third-and-16. Had the Ravens instead let the six seconds run off the clock, the Patriots would have to call a rushing play to force the Ravens to use their timeout, or else the Pats would risk stopping the clock with an incompletion. But with the two-minute warning waiting, Brady was able to drop back and take a shot at Gronkowski. It went incomplete, so it didn’t end up making a difference, but as a general rule, it’s not a good idea to call timeout with 2:06 left.

–Back in my day, players would only get up and celebrate like jackwagons when they made big plays. Now, they make cool poses after they … draw a penalty flag.

img 1775 Bill Belichicks Ref Reaction Only Human And Other Leftover Patriots Thoughts

Welcome to today’s NFL!

–Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Lloyd … I see those names, and I consider all their great talent, and I think, “Let’s run trick plays!!”

Oh, wait, no I don’t. That’s Josh McDaniels.

–Serious question: Did Billy Cundiff get any sleep last night?

–Brady passed Joe Montana and moved into 12th all time in passing yards. That sounds pretty impressive, until you realize that Kerry Collins ranks 11th and Drew Bledsoe ranks eighth and Vinny Testaverde ranks seventh.

–From a Patriots perspective, from a football fan’s perspective, and from the perspective of someone who just can’t stomach awful officiating, let’s let Bill Belichick have the final word:

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or follow him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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