The NFL's vice president of officiating appeared on NFL Network on Tuesday to help explain the process by which officials in last night's Patriots-Panthers game decided to pick up a flag that had been thrown in the end zone on the final play of Carolina's 24-20 win.
Dean Blandino danced around questions of whether or not the officials made the correct call, explaining that the mechanics used to come to their conclusion were correct.
The question, according to Blandino, was never whether or not Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly made contact with Rob Gronkowski. He even admitted that the back judge saw "restriction," which led to the flag.
The question is, Blandino said, did the "restriction" happen at the same time that Tom Brady's pass was picked off? Because if contact was made with Gronkowski at the same time that the ball was touched, there was no penalty.
Blandino praised the back judge and the side judge for coming together after the play in an attempt to get the call right.
"They ruled that the restriction occurred simultaneously with the ball being touched," Blandino said. "When you watch it in full speed, you can see why they would make that call."
In slow motion, it's apparent that Kuechly makes contact with Gronkowski well before Brady's pass is picked by Panthers defensive back Robert Lester.
Blandino explains that the officials do not have the benefit of reviewing a play like the one that ended Monday night's game.
"It's a judgement call," Blandino said. "There was contact, but there's contact on a lot of passing plays down field. The issue isn't contact. The issue is restriction. Does it occur prior to the ball being touched? At full speed, the officials made a tight judgement call, and they made the determination that the restriction occurred just after the ball was being touched. At full speed, you can see why they would make that call."
Asked if the officials made the wrong call, Blandino continued his jig.
"I wouldn't say that they were wrong," he said. "They used proper mechanics and got together after the play."
Blandino also explained that referee Clete Blakeman's crew would not be downgraded for the no-call, and that their availability for postseason assignments would not be affected in any way because of the game-ending play.
In comments made to pool reporters after the game last night, Blakeman explained that, essentially, Brady's pass was uncatchable, which is why there was no penalty called. Blandino made no reference to the catchability of the ball in his explanation, instead emphasizing that the timing of the "restriction" and Lester's contact with the ball negated any penalty that could have been called.