NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said in an interview on NFL Network that he wouldn’t downgrade the officials who picked up a pass interference flag on the last play of Monday night’s Patriots-Panthers game. But Blandino stopped short of directly endorsing the officials’ call.
Asked on NFL Network if the officials were wrong not to flag the Panthers for pass interference, Blandino answered, “I wouldn’t say that they were wrong.”
“They used proper mechanics,” Blandino said. “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.”
Blandino said the back judge threw a flag on Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly for grabbing Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski but the side judge came in and told the back judge that Panthers safety Robert Lester had already touched the ball before Kuechly restricted Gronkowski’s movement.
“The back judge is going to see restriction right there and he’s going to throw his flag for that restriction,” Blandino said. “The side judge who had Dobson, his mechanics are once the ball is in the air he’s going to go to the ball and he’s going to focus on the interception. 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. 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. This is a judgment call; the officials don’t have the use of replay. 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.”
That’s a different explanation than referee Clete Blakeman offered after the game. What Blakeman said is that the flag was picked up because the pass wasn’t catchable, not because the restriction occurred simultaneously with the ball being touched.
Blandino said the officials will not be downgraded for the call, and the call will not affect whether these officials are assigned to playoff games.
“Again, it’s a judgment call,” Blandino said. “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. 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.”
In Blandino’s explanation, however, he never directly answered whether the officials got the call right. And, frankly, he comes across like he’s trying not to directly answer that question because he thinks his guys got it wrong.