OWINGS MILLS — As far as Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis is concerned, Tom Brady is akin to a puppet master when it comes to controlling the officials’ actions.
Video replays demonstrated how the New England Patriots’ quarterback specifically motioned for roughing the passer penalties during the Ravens’ 27-21 defeat Sunday at Gillette Stadium, and the officials complied by tossing the flag twice as both penalties led to touchdowns.
"A personal foul and he isn’t even touched," Lewis said."He’s a man. They can be hit, just like us. We stop them and then you look back and see a flag or a personal foul and Tom Brady is laughing. It wasn’t no personal foul if he’s still smiling."
One day after Lewis characterized the officials’ work as embarrassing to the league and free safety Ed Reed described their calls as terrible, Ravens coach John Harbaugh pondered openly whether Brady had received different treatment than Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.
Flacco was hit several times, but the Patriots were only flagged with one penalty. That came on defensive end Mike Wright’s obvious helmet-to-helmet shot.
"I know Joe got hit five different times in the game, hard, and there was one call,” Harbaugh said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Five that weren’t called and the one that was called was the sixth one. Tom didn’t get hit five times.
“We want him to be hit more than he was hit, but when he did sort of get hit, he was called. That goes to the credibility of the whole thing.”
The Ravens are submitting questionable plays and calls to the league office. The officials are governed by Mike Pereira, the NFL vice president of officiating.
Prior to this season, the NFL made it a special point of emphasis to attempt to protect quarterbacks’ health.
It has been widely described as the Tom Brady rule in league circles because the change was prompted by the hit he took in the knee last season from Bernard Pollard that put him out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
And that high-profile injury prompted the league to do more to prevent injuries by creating a deterrent for defenders with penalties for low hits.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said that Brady intentionally flopped to the ground when he grazed the side of his helmet and was assessed with a 15-yard penalty.
Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was flagged for hitting Brady in the leg, wondered if the NFL might adopt schoolyard rules next season.
"Maybe next year it’ll be two-hand touch to get a sack,” Suggs said.
Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, one of the league’s fiercest and most fined defenders who’s now an NBC analyst, made it clear that he thinks the calls are excessive.
“Tom Brady, if you’re listening, take off the skirt and put on some slacks,” Harrison said. “Toughen up.”
Harrison later said that he was only joking about Brady’s toughness, but the point was clear.
And former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy agreed with Harrison’s assessment. He termed the penalty on Suggs as “an overreaction to Brady getting hurt last year.”
“The rule states that you cannot hit a quarterback low, forcibly,” Dungy said. “This was not enough force to make this call.”
When asked if officials are inclined to protect Brady and prevent another injury to one of the league’s top stars, Harbaugh replied: “I sure hope not. I would like to think it’s not ingrained in their subconscious in some way. And, if it is, I’d like to think they’re professional enough not to take it that way. That would be very important, that it’s not the case.”
Brady seems to be amused by the entire episode.
"Are you kidding me?” he said with a laugh. “We’re holding the ball, we’re unprotected, just sitting there defenseless, so they’ve got to stay away from me. They deserve to get flagged."
Meanwhile, Harbaugh expressed hope that the Ravens’ defense isn’t under more scrutiny than other teams because of their hard-hitting, aggressive reputation.
“That’s an interesting question,” he said. “I sure hope not, because that goes back to the credibility of the league and the credibility of the game.”
Harbaugh didn’t emerge unscathed from the men in the black and white stripes on Sunday.
He was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for griping to the officials about the penalties, a rarely called infraction.
“I’ve never received a penalty like that and have never seen a penalty like that,” Harbaugh said. “The thing I want to emphasize is that the penalty was on me strictly. In that case, I felt like I was defending our team.”
Harbaugh said that he was unsure what particular word set off the official and triggered the call.
From watching Harbaugh on the sideline, it looked like there was some colorful language on his part.
“We’re still waiting to hear back from the league about exactly the specifics of that,” Harbaugh said. “If there’s a certain word that sets him off, I’ll be looking forward to seeing what that word is. So, I’m looking forward to seeing what the explanation is on that.”
Now that the game is over, the Ravens (3-1) are launching preparations for Sunday’s pivotal AFC North showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals (3-1) with first place in the division at stake.
Dwelling on the officiating in New England could prove to be counterproductive.
“You just realize you can’t let those emotions linger,” center Matt Birk said. “This game is already in the past. You can’t afford to anything else but move on and be in tune to the next one. Otherwise, it can snowball on you.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.