The image above is the last play from Monday night’s Patriots–Panthers game. With Carolina leading 24-20, it was a last-second desperation throw into the end zone from New England quarterback Tom Brady who was looking for Rob Gronkowski. As you can see, Gronkowski was preoccupied with a bear-hugging Luke Kuechly as Robert Lester prepared to intercept the wayward pass.
The back judge, positioned underneath the goal post and no more than four feet from Gronkowski and Kuechly, immediately threw his flag. But after a brief conference with the other officials, it was determined that Brady’s pass was “uncatchable.” The flag was picked up, the game over and the controversy began.
On Tuesday, NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino supported the crew’s decision but also offered a different explanation for why the flag was picked up. Blandino never once used the word “uncatchable” but instead focused on the contact between Gronkowski and Kuechly.
“The issue isn’t the contact; the issue is the restriction,” he 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. Again, at full speed you could see why they made that call.”
“I wouldn’t say that they were wrong,” he 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.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who also happens to be a longtime member of the competition committee, disagrees. He thinks the back judge was right to throw the flag but remains unclear why it was promptly picked up.
“I personally feel like the flag went down for a reason, and it looked like a foul to me,” Fisher said Tuesday, via ESPNBoston.com‘s Mike Reiss. “So, that’s my opinion. Because I was not on the sideline, obviously, I can voice my opinion [without getting fined].”
If the argument is that the pass was uncatchable, fine. But if Blandino’s trying to make the case that “the restriction occurred just as the ball was being touched,” then he’s completely lost us and just about everybody else, we’d imagine.
Either way, our biggest issue with calls like this is the lack of consistency.