New England’s 24-20 loss to Carolina on Monday night ended with Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly in the end zone holding on to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. That much is clear. What isn’t clear is if a penalty was committed on what ended up being the final play of the game.
A flag was thrown on the play for pass interference, but after a quick huddle, the officiating crew waved the flag off, deeming the pass uncatchable. Here’s what referee Cletel Blakeman said about the no-call after the game, “There was a determination that, in essence, uncatchability, that the ball was intercepted at or about the same time the primary contact against the receiver occurred.”
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino appeared on NFL Network on Tuesday to further explain the call.
“After the play — you’ll see the flag come out — the back judge is going to signal to the side judge and they’re going to get together and have a discussion,” Blandino said, via a transcript provided to CBSSports.com. “What they’re going to talk about is when did the restriction occur in relation to the ball being touched? Because once the ball is touched you cannot have pass interference.”
As the picture at the top of the page shows, Kuechley appears to be all over Gronkowski before the ball is intercepted by Robert Lester. However, it’s worth noting that the officiating crew got only one look at this play and that’s when it actually happened because pass interference is not reviewable.
“This is a judgment call; the officials don’t have the use of replay,” Blandino said. “They don’t have slow motion replay and ultimately they ruled that the restriction occurred simultaneously with the ball being touched. When you watch it at full speed, you could see why they would make that call on the field.”
Blandino was then asked if the flag that the back judge threw should have been picked up.
“There was contact, but there is contact on a lot of passing plays downfield. The issue isn’t the contact; the issue is the restriction,” Blandino said. “Does it occur prior to the ball being touched? At full speed, the officials made a tight judgment call and they determined that the restriction occurred just as the ball was being touched.”
The most interesting answer from Blandino came when he was asked if the officials were wrong on the play. Although Blandino says the crew wasn’t wrong, he never comes out and says they were right either.
“I wouldn’t say that they were wrong,” Blandino said. “Again, they have to make this call. They used proper mechanics. They got together after the play. They determined that in their judgment the contact occurred simultaneous with the ball being intercepted and that’s why the officials did what they did.”
Another thing worth pointing out is that although Blakeman — the referee of the game — referred to the pass as uncatchable, Blandino himself never used the word during the interview.
Blandino’s words probably aren’t going to make the Patriots feel any better. Blandino also added that this call will not affect the postseason assignments of the crew.