Publicly, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has said all the right things (or, perhaps more accurately, none of the wrong things) about the final play of Monday night’s loss to the Panthers. On Wednesday, he told reporters repeatedly that he has moved on to the next game.
Before doing so, however, Belichick turned back the clock.
According to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, Belichick showed his players film from the 2009 game between the Browns and the Lions. Belichick’s protégé-turned-nemesis, Eric Mangini, lost to Detroit after an interference call on a Hail Mary throw to the end zone gave the home team an untimed play from the one. The call of interference stood even though the ball was intercepted in front of the Lions player who had been wiped about by another Cleveland defender.
Point made: The same standard wasn’t applied to the Patriots.
But Belichick presumably didn’t share video with his team from their own 2010 game against the quarterback the Patriots are now preparing to face yet again. With the Colts at the New England 24, 37 seconds left, and trailing 31-28, Peyton Manning fired the ball down the right sideline, toward Pierre Garςon near the goal line. The ball was underthrown, and Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty had his hands on Garςon, keeping him from getting back to the ball.
Meanwhile, Patriots defensive back James Sanders sprang up at the nine and intercepted it.
There was no flag. No Manning face. No “F” bombs dropped on the referee as he ran off the field. No controversy. No anything. The ball was picked off by Sanders, making it not catchable by Garςon.
There likely are other examples of underthrown balls that were intercepted in front of contact that would have been interference. In all cases, interference becomes negated if the ball is deemed uncatchable. In all cases, it’s a judgment call.
Making the call in this case more conspicuous was that the back judge threw the flag before picking it up. Changing his mind meant that he changed his real-time judgment that interference happened to an after-the-fact determination that it didn’t. And it was poorly explained by referee Clete Blakeman, as the league has acknowledged.
Regardless, showing current Patriots players video from a four-year-old game that featured the opposite outcome fails to tell the whole story about pass interference on underthrown balls that are intercepted, without showing them video of a game played three years ago today — involving their own team and the quarterback they’ll play again in three days.