I really, really didn't want to write another article harping on Monday night's controversial non-penalty that has been such a hot-button issue around the media as of late; complaining isn't going to change things, the game is over, and it's time to focus on Denver. I'll go to my grave thinking that was a bad call, but bad calls happen. They happen every day in every facet of life, and sometimes they end up screwing you. I can't really take issue with losing the game on a bad penalty if I step back and look at it objectively.
Where I most certainly can take issue, however, is with the way the NFL is handling this whole situation. I understand the need to protect your own and stand by your colleagues, but there comes a time when the proper thing to do is simply admit a mistake was made, explain that these things happen, and move on. What's occurring instead is far from that and is just another shovelful of hot, steaming crap that the front office is piling onto this league.
As I'm sure we are all painfully aware by now, the initial reasoning for picking the flag up was that the pass was deemed uncatchable; the logic was that there was just no way that Rob Gronkowski could have made the cut he was supposed to make and get to where he was supposed to be based on how the play was going and where Brady put the throw. While that statement ignores the fact that Gronk couldn't make his cut because he was prevented from doing so by a linebacker who was draped all over him, thus falling squarely into the "Cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball" section of the Pass Interference rule, it was what the refs were saying, and that was that. I wasn't happy, but that was the ruling, so what can you do.
Unfortunately, a recent episode of "Sports Science" debunked that rule, using physics and who knows what else to prove that Gronk had slowed down enough and has a big enough body to have made a play for the ball had he been able to make his cut unimpeded. The program shows that, because he was prevented from changing direction, he couldn't get where he needed to be, and the ball was only uncatchable because he was interfered with.
Perhaps because of that, and perhaps because of the numerous reputable sources who are vocally expressing their disagreement with the final ruling, the NFL is now changing its story. In a recent interview with the NFL Network, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino was asked whether the refs made a good call. And while he never actually answered, he had the following to say regarding how it all went down:
"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."
So the reason the flag got picked up now is that the ball was touched prior to Luke Kuechly making contact with Gronk, and once the ball is tipped, there cannot be pass interference.
That play has been shown hundreds of times by this point, from every possible angle, and not once does any defensive player come close to touching the ball until it is intercepted. The only balls that got touched were Gronk's by Kuechly's knee as he prevented him from making that catch. To change the story now is both incredibly disingenuous and makes the entire NFL look foolish. It's a classic backtrack tactic that isn't fooling anyone, and I don't know what Blandino was thinking.
But I'm a pretty forgiving guy, so I figure that he should try again. So how about it, Dean-o? Want to give it another shot? How about giving us another explanation for what happened on Monday night? As a show of good faith, I have taken the liberty of providing a sample quote for you to use. Feel free to steal the whole thing and claim it as your own, I couldn't care less:
That was a bad call. That flag should have either stayed in the back judge's pocket or the penalty should have been enforced. Instead, the flag was erroneously picked up and the officiating crew made a mistake on what turned out to be a crucial play in one of the best games of the 2013 season. Like all humans, NFL referees are prone to make mistakes at times, and while we do everything we can to ensure that the calls made on the field are the correct ones and no game is decided by an officiating oversight, sometimes human error is simply and unavoidably going to come into play. The NFL will continue to do everything in its power to put our best officials on the field, and while no referee is perfect and mistakes will always be made, we shouldn't allow this one call to take away from what was otherwise a thrilling and exciting contest between two of the NFL's premiere teams. I have full faith in all of my officials and trust that they will all use this incident as an opportunity to examine their in-game preparedness and ensure that every possible measure is taken that all NFL games are settled fairly and without controversy.
I could very easily have lived with that. I would have appreciated the admission that a mistake was made and now it's time to move on. Lord knows I make more mistakes in an hour than most people make in a week. But you know what? I own up to them. I admit when I'm wrong, I beg forgiveness when necessary, and I move on with my life. It isn't hard to do, and the NFL isn't above accountability. Just admit it was a bad call and move on to figuring out more ways to make the league less fun to watch - you guys are already doing a bang-up job with that.
A final congrats to the Panthers, and I'm sorry this nonsense is detracting from your victory. Until I figure out a way to deflect blame with the unflinching precision of the NFL, I guess I'll just have to sit here and take my lumps.