The questionable roughing-the-passer penalties in the Ravens' 27-21 loss Sunday to the New England Patriots have spurred a national debate on whether Tom Brady is being overprotected by officials.
But there is another issue: Are the Ravens being overscrutinized?
Through the first quarter of the season, the Ravens have been penalized four times for roughing the quarterback. In contrast, the rest of the AFC North (the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns) has been flagged a combined two times for that penalty.
Asked whether the Ravens' aggressive reputation has drawn more attention from officials, Harbaugh said: "I sure hope not. That goes back to the credibility of the league and the credibility of the game. I know Joe [Flacco] got hit five different times during the game hard, and there was one call. Tom [Brady] didn't get hit five times - and we wanted him to be hit more - but when he sort of got hit, it was called. That goes to the credibility."
In the first quarter, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was flagged after his left arm hit the side of Brady's helmet, allowing the Patriots to convert a third-and-9. In the second quarter, the right shoulder of a diving Terrell Suggs grazed the right leg of Brady, helping New England convert a second-and-11.
The Ravens have submitted "plays and questionable calls" to the NFL for review, according to Harbaugh.
"The bottom line is this: As a coach in this league or a player in this league or a fan of the league, the expectation of the officiating is that it's fair and it's consistent," Harbaugh said. "To me, that's a reasonable expectation. I know the league agrees with that because the league chases that."
It was a year ago Monday when a roughing-the-passer call against the Tennessee Titans led to a 13-10 Ravens loss. After the game, Suggs said officials look at the Ravens closer than other teams, saying, "We're the bad boys of football."
Asked after Sunday's loss whether the Ravens' image has led to more penalties, Suggs said: "Kind of. We are a very physical defense. I can't say whether it does or whether it doesn't."
The Ravens' relationship with officials has been contentious over the years.
During a 21-penalty game in Detroit in 2005, Suggs had a face-to-face argument with a referee after a roughing-the-passer penalty and was ejected.
Two seasons ago against the Patriots, linebacker Bart Scott was fined $25,000 for verbally abusing game officials and throwing an official's flag into the stands near the end of the Ravens' 27-24 loss.
"There is a reputation," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "It's tough to sit here and go, 'Yeah, these guys are looking at us differently than they look at other teams.' I wouldn't say that. But who knows?"
This year's personal fouls have struck a painful chord. Of eight touchdowns allowed by the Ravens' defense, three drives have been spurred by roughing penalties.
The severity of the repercussions can affect the aggressiveness of the Ravens' pass rushers.
"I have had two sacks where I've run up to a quarterback and the only thing I'm thinking is: Don't hit him in the wrong spot," said Johnson, who was called for roughing the passer in the season opener. "It does bother me when you're thinking about that when you play. It's just the league we play.
"It's crazy out there. You talk trash. You're hyper-aggressive. And then, at a certain point, you got to let up. That's what is tough about it."
Defensive end Trevor Pryce, who was flagged for roughing in Week 2 at San Diego, said contact with the quarterback is sometimes unavoidable.
"It's hard to stop running toward the quarterback in full stride. It is almost impossible," Pryce said. "Quarterbacks know what they're doing. Quarterbacks bait us. They know they're going to get hit, and all of a sudden they flop down."
The Ravens aren't the only ones questioning Sunday's calls against Suggs and Ngata.
The hit by Suggs "was not enough force to make this call," said Tony Dungy, the former Indianapolis Colts coach who is now an NBC studio analyst. "This was an overreaction to Tom getting hurt last year."
According to Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13 of the NFL rule book, a rushing defender is prohibited from "forcibly" hitting the knee area or below.
After the game, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis repeatedly called the pair of roughing calls "embarrassing." Suggs suggested there was favoritism to protect some quarterbacks and said, "maybe next year, it'll be two-hand touch" to get a sack.
An NFL spokesman said Monday that the league isn't discussing the Ravens' comments "at this point."
Said Lewis: "You look at the replay, and he's barely touched. He's a man. They [quarterbacks] can be hit just like us."
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