Since making a controversial call that aided in the Carolina Panthers' victory over the New England Patriots on Monday night, that game's officiating crew has been under fire. One very important person who is in their corner, however, happens to be the NFL's vice president of officiating.
According to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino defended the officials' decision by calling it a "tight judgment call."
The play in question occurred with no time left on the clock and New England trailing Carolina 24-20. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady attempted to find tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on a pass from the 18-yard line, but Gronk was seemingly obstructed by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. This allowed Panthers safety Robert Lester to intercept the pass and end the game as seen in this video courtesy of NFL.com:
Although a flag was initially thrown on the play, it was picked up as the officials discussed whether or not the call should have been made. They ultimately decided that there was no infraction, and Carolina left the field victorious.
Blandino stopped short of definitively saying that the officiating crew made the right call, but he did say that proper protocol was followed.
I wouldn't say that they were wrong. Again, they have to make this call. They used proper mechanics. They got together after the play. They determined that, in their judgment, that the contact occurred simultaneous with the ball being intercepted, and that's what the officials did.
Blandino explained that the officials decided to pick up the flag because they determined that Gronkowski wasn't interfered with until the very instant that Lester intercepted the ball.
The issue isn't the contact. The issue is the restriction. Does it occur when prior to the ball being touched? And at full speed, the officials made a tight judgment call and they determined that the restriction occurred just as the ball was being touched. And again, at full speed, you could see why they made that call.
That school of thought is controversial in its own right since Gronkowski was seemingly deprived of the right to battle for the ball. ESPN's Skip Bayless believes that Kuechly's potential interference took Gronk out of the play, which likely should have drawn a call of some kind.
Kuechly basically tackled Gronk! Wrapped him up! No, he couldn't get back to the ball because he was ridden out of the play. INTERFERENCE!— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) November 19, 2013
Brady later discussed the controversial call on WEEI Radio on Tuesday, Nov. 19, via Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
When asked Tuesday on WEEI Radio if he'd ever seen a pass called uncatchable because it was too low, Brady said it was a new experience.
"No I haven't," he said. "I'm sure there is a first time for everything. We get our fair share of calls and we don't. Referees never want to be in that position either....I guess being in the NFL for as long as I've been in you see kinda everything. It happened and we're gonna have to move on. You don't have long to grieve in the NFL."
Blandino's explanation jives with the one referee Clete Blakeman gave after the game, according to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com.
There were two officials that came in. One was the umpire and the other one was our side judge and there was a discussion at that point as to the, in essence, the catchability of the ball due to its location. So it was determined at that point in time that when the primary contact occurred on the tight end that the ball, in essence, was coming in underthrown and in essence it was immediate at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone. So 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.
The officials and their superiors may be on the same page in this instance, but that can't possibly make Patriots fans feel any better about the call. It's nearly impossible to take human error and judgment out of a game like football, though, which means that this certainly won't be the last controversial call that takes the league by storm.
New England has a golden opportunity to put this mess in the rear-view, as it will play the Denver Broncos in Week 12. That obviously won't be an easy task, though, and a loss could cause even more negativity to set in.
The Panthers will take on the Miami Dolphins in Week 12 with a six-game winning streak in tow, and there is little doubt that beating the Patriots was huge for the team's confidence.
Not only did the officiating decision have an impact on Monday's game, but it could very well affect both teams moving forward for the remainder of the season.
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