The NFL upheld the controversial non-call at the end of the New England Patriots-Carolina Panthers game, with the vice president of officiating saying that “proper mechanics” were used to make a “tight judgment call.”
The game ended when a pass from Tom Brady was intercepted by Robert Lester in the end zone as his target Rob Gronkowski was hugged and mugged by Luke Kuechly a couple of yards from where the underthrown pass ended up.
“The issue isn’t the contact, the issue is the restriction and does it occur prior to the ball being touched,” Dean Blandino told the NFL Network. “At full speed the officials made a tight judgment call and they determined that the restriction occurred just as the ball was being touched [by Lester]. Again, at full speed you can see why they made that call.”
A flag was thrown immediately, and just as immediately, it was picked up by back judge Terrence Miles. Referee Clete Blakeman announced that there was no penalty and the game was over. Officials said they deemed the ball uncatchable, a determination that usually applies to passes that fly into orbit or dig a trough in the turf. Pass-interference penalties are not subject to review. “Restriction occurred simultaneously with the ball being touched,” Blandino said. “When you watch it at full speed you can see why they would make that call on the field.”
A national debate over the call raged Tuesday with nearly 77 percent of 4,200 voters in an Early Lead poll saying that a penalty should have been called. Former NFL official Jim Daopoulus agreed and told USA Today’s Tom Pelissero that Miles should have stood by his call.
“We as officials have always been taught, for a ball to be uncatchable, it has to be clearly out of the field of play,” Daopoulus said, “or it has to be a kind of — I probably shouldn’t say this — a Tim Tebow-type pass that lands 15 yards in front of you.”
Oof. At any rate, the Patriots move on, and quickly, to preparations for a Sunday night game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. For the first time in 65 games dating to 2005, the Pats are a home underdog. “Whatever the officials think is the only thing that matters,” Bill Belichick said Tuesday. “They’re the ones that make the calls. It’s their explanation and their judgment that we all have to abide by.”
The league couldn’t just overturn the result — ask the Green Bay Packers of 2012 about that — and the bottom line is that it’s a game played by humans, officiated by humans. So now it’s up to the Competition Committee in the offseason to determine whether a rules change is in order.