Pass interference penalties are not reviewable in the NFL. But as the entire NFL reviews a controversial pass interference non-call at the end of Monday night’s Patriots-Panthers game, it’s been largely overlooked that one element of the play could have been reviewed: Whether the ball was touched before pass interference occurred.
NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said in his quasi-defense of the decision to pick up the pass interference flag that the key question was, “when did the restriction occur in relation to the ball being touched?” In other words, which happened first, Luke Kuechly grabbing Rob Gronkowski, or Robert Lester touching Tom Brady’s pass?
As noted by Blandino’s predecessor, Mike Pereira, on today’s Dan Patrick Show, referee Clete Blakeman could have used instant replay to answer that question. Although pass interference penalties are not reviewable, touching of a forward pass by a defensive player is reviewable.
“This would have initiated a replay review because that aspect of the play is reviewable,” Pereira said. “You can review the touching of a pass in relationship to pass interference being called, and since it was called and then picked up, if that’s the reason it was picked up, then replay could have put it back on. So replay, somehow, should have gotten involved in this to find out exactly why they picked the flag up. And nobody has really talked about that at this point.”
However, it’s still not clear why the flag was picked up. Although Blandino said the key question was when the ball was touched, Blakeman himself said the key question was whether the pass was catchable. And whether or not a pass is catchable is not reviewable.
Perhaps the NFL needs to change the replay rules so that referees have the authority to use instant replay on such plays. If a game comes down to a judgment call on the last play of the game, the referee should be permitted to check the replay before declaring the game over.