Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Right And Wrong

Two takeaways from Monday night's epic NFL showdown: The Carolina Panthers absolutely are for real, and the New England Patriots were the victims of a terrible call by officials. My thoughts on both, plus your mailbag questions

First and foremost: Carolina is a very good team. There will be no “but” in this column, no, Carolina’s a very good team, but the Patriots got jobbed. None of that. Carolina doesn’t deserve that, and no one will ever know if the flag that was picked up in the end zone after the last play of the game would have led to the winning touchdown. Would the Patriots have scored from the 1-yard line on an untimed down against a defense that had been on the field for 29 plays in the final 17 minutes? We’ll never know.

Carolina scored on drives of 80, 57, 81 and 83 yards, and Cam Newton was every bit the match of Tom Brady on Monday night in Charlotte. Newton consistently knew when to run and when to hold back and look for his secondary receivers, as he did on the winning touchdown pass, a 25-yard strike-and-run by Ted Ginn Jr. The promise GM Marty Hurney saw in Newton in the months before the 2011 draft is coming true, and the patience of offensive coordinator Mike Shula is paying off. Newton knows he doesn’t have to win games by himself now, and he can play the John Stockton role happily when the situation calls for it.

The Panthers (7-3) are in the driver’s seat for the fifth seed in the playoffs, and Monday’s win means they likely will enter the home-and-home series with New Orleans in December with a chance to win the NFC South—and win a bye in the first round of the playoffs. That’s a long way to come for a team that looked so lost at 1-3, one month into the season.

Now about that call …

Back judge Terrence Miles goes for his flag after seeing Luke Kuechly (59) collide with Rob Gronkowski (87) in the end zone on the game's final play, but no penalty was called. (Chuck Burton/AP)
Back judge Terrence Miles goes for his flag after seeing Luke Kuechly (59) collide with Rob Gronkowski (87) in the end zone on the game’s final play, but no penalty was called. (Chuck Burton/AP)

If you haven’t seen the play, watch it here. The following is my interpretation. With three seconds left in the game and Carolina leading 24-20, New England had the ball at the Carolina 18-yard line. Tom Brady went back to pass and threw for tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone. The pass was short. As the pass floated, Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, in coverage on Gronkowski, draped himself on Gronkowski about four yards deep in the end zone. Kuechly had his back turned to the ball, and he was not playing the ball when it was in the air, but he was in contact with Gronkowski. Backup safety Robert Lester stepped in front of Kuechly and Gronkowski and picked off the ball about five yards deep in the end zone. Had not Lester picked it off, the ball would have landed somewhere between a foot and a yard from the feet of Gronkowski, but the combined momentum of Kuechly and Gronkowski was taking both men further back into the end zone at the time Lester intercepted it.

Immediately, a flag came flying from the back of the end zone. It was thrown by the back judge, Terrence Miles. He immediately conferenced with his fellow officials, and after a few seconds, they apparently determined that, in their opinion, the ball was uncatchable. Referee Clete Blakeman turned on his mike and said to the crowd: “There is no foul on the play. The game is over.’’

MMQB Mail

Don't miss the mailbag on Page 2, where Peter King answers readers' questions about whether the Redskins regret the RG3 trade and why the refs absolutely got it right in New Orleans.

After the game, Blakeman spoke to pool reporters and said he believes the crew got the call right. Blakeman’s statement, in part, was this: “It was determined at that point in time that when the primary contact occurred on the tight end that the ball, in essence, was coming in underthrown and in essence it was immediate at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone. So there was a determination that, in essence, uncatchability, that the ball was intercepted at or about the same time the primary contact against the receiver occurred.” His words, obviously, were not cleaned up. But he’s saying the officials in or near the end zone ruled Gronkowski couldn’t have caught it.

Four thoughts on what happened:

1. Blakeman blew it. A ref’s job on a play of that magnitude is not only to make the call his officials see fit, but to explain it. It’s not Blakeman’s call. Blakeman was a good 25 to 30 yards away, watching Brady in the pocket, when Miles’ flag flew, and Blakeman, as any referee does, has to rely on the officials on the scene to tell him the correct ruling in their area. Blakeman’s job in the deciding and highly controversial play in any NFL game is to explain why there was no foul on the play, so the thousands in the crowd and the millions watching on TV can understand why the flag was being picked up. He didn’t do that. With as big as the NFL is, with as much interest as there is in the game, there’s no way Blakeman can get away without explaining why he made one of the biggest calls of the season. If you’re going to be subjected to 10 or 15 Number 62 is reporting as an eligible receiver calls in some games, or Please reset the game clock to… two or three times a game, you owe it to the fans (and the affected coaches and players) to explain why the game is over.

2. Then Gerry Austin blew it. Austin, the ESPN officiating consultant, kept defending the call on the ESPN post-game telecast. In essence, he said if the ball is uncatchable, you can’t have interference. Jon Gruden argued with him and said: “The pass interference starts four yards deep in the end zone, and that’s where the ball ends up being thrown … It should be a penalty on Kuechly.” In Austin’s logic, a defensive player can drape his arms over a potential receiver and push him away from the ball, and if the ball is underthrown, it’s not interference. That, quite frankly, is insulting to any football fan’s intelligence. In the 2013 NFL Digest of Rules, under Article 2 of pass-interference penalties, one of the acts that defines interference is: “a) Contact by a player who is not playing the ball that restricts the opponent’s opportunity to make the catch.” Luke Kuechly made contact with Gronkowski while not playing the ball, and it restricted Gronkowski’s opportunity to make the catch.

3. The ball would have been catchable, if Kuechly hadn’t been hanging on Gronkowski. Watch it again. Gronkowski wouldn’t have been able to get back to the ball because Kuechly was all over him. Had Kuechly not been there, Gronkowski could have stepped up and competed for the ball. Kuechly’s interference materially affected Gronkowski’s ability to compete for the ball. As Steve Young said later on ESPN: “How can you compete for the ball if you’re being held from the ball?”

4. The NFL should force officials, after a game-ending play of that magnitude, to explain it to the two head coaches. What happens after a complicated replay review is you see members of the crew go the benches to explain the call while the referee announces it. Don’t you owe the coaches the same explanation after a game-deciding call as you do after a second-quarter catch/no-catch ruling?

I hope league officiating czar Dean Blandino cleans up some of the communication issues that marred the end of a thrilling game—quite possibly the game of the year. And I hope the Competition Committee clarifies language and mandates a call of interference anytime a receiver in the same area code as a thrown pass is illegally blanketed by a defensive player.

.

Now let’s head over to Page 2 for your email…

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911 comments
footballfanatic7
footballfanatic7

My comment is being made months later - as I just came across this article while researching how much Peter King is biased towards the Patriots - but I am astounded about all the talk by columnists and TV analysts about bad officiating this past year when virtually nothing was said last year after the Broncos/Ravens game.  During the game the analysts repeated had to say "the Ravens got away with one there!"  or that "that was a bad call (non-call)"  or being absolutely astounded when a replay did not overturn the call on the field ---and it was all calls or non-calls that went against the Broncos.  A game that went to double overtime.  Do you think those calls might have made a difference in that game???

CurtSenka
CurtSenka

Getting sick and tired of watching the Patriots lose games ending on a controversial call.  I find it interesting that the officials have decided there is a time when pass interference is acceeptable.  Bring back the replacement refs, at least we expect them to be incompetent.

PritchBomb
PritchBomb

It's a judgement call as to whether the ball was uncatchable or not, and the referees made the call based on their judgement on the field. The fact of the matter is that there was no way he was catching that ball. Even if Kuechly wasn't in contact with Gronk, the other defender still would have intercepted it because Gronk was fading toward the rear of the end zone at the time. It was a terrible pass that had NO chance of being caught by any Patriot receiver and the refs made the right (non) call.

I like PK and MMQB, but his constant whining is getting a little annoying (see Redskins name change nonsense).

RockerMaximus
RockerMaximus

I saw so many no calls that favored the Patriots I lost count.

Zimmzimm
Zimmzimm

Pretty amusing how Pats fans see it their way and Panthers fans see it theirs. And each truly believes they're right. I prob would do the same thing. However in this case I'm completely objective (just a fan of football) so I figured I would give an opinion since everyone else can't seem to resist. For the record I dislike the Pats immensely and I'm impartial to the Panthers. So here's my unbiased interpretation of what happened. The flag was thrown. And for good reason. It was a penalty no matter how you spin it and it's pretty obvious that the majority of experts and the like agree with that. That being said, if no flag was thrown, I would have been ok with it but prob would have said, wow that's interference. But a flag was thrown. And you just can't say without a shadow of a doubt that the tight end couldn't make a play on the ball. That's a judgement call you just can't make. The guy was either interfered with or he wasn't and clearly he was. Admittedly if I was a Pats fan I would be annoyed. Since I'm the opposite I'm actually very happy that the panthers got the win although I think a gross injustice was done to the sport, the fans, and the players. There should have been one more play. Hopefully an incompletion or interception but we'll never know. I'll conclude with Congrats to both teams for playing a heck of an entertaining game. And while I think the refs are doing the best they can, let's just chalk this one up to a bad call that may have affected the outcome of the game.

twilli10
twilli10

I have watched it many times and with or without Kuechly there, I think Gronkowski's momentum towards the back of teh end-zone would have prevented him from making a true play on the ball.  The pass was underthrown due to a defender coming at Brady as he stepped to his left, forcing him to throw off his heels.   Bottom line is it's a judgement call by the referees.  We have to respect that they (for the most part) do the best they can.  We all have the luxury of multiple replays at 5000 frames per second to critique them.  It's easy to Monday morning quarterback it, but let's give the refs a break.  It was an awesome and competitive game between two payoff contenders.  It's a shame one call is overshadowing both team's efforts. 

BillMcGov
BillMcGov

Why give two different explanations? Even the head of Ref'ing doesn't believe in the "it was uncatchable" rationale. He offered a completely different explanation than the previously argued explanation. His take was that the interception occurred at the same time as the interference which is completely incorrect. Why not either support the call or say it was wrong. Now it just looks like they're trying to back the ref's at all costs.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

The Pats cult just can't take the fact that Newton, Smith, and company kicked their butts on national TV and they want to whine about a correctly made non call because they think that their fragile TE could have gone through an LB and then somehow got underneath a bread basket catch of the DB to catch the poorly thrown low ball all while this TE's momentum is moving to the back of the end zone.

Panthers Win!!!!  Game over!  Move On!

cuthbert
cuthbert

You're right about 1 and 4, horribly wrong about 2 and 3. 


But, hey... 50% isn't bad. 

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

Great Win Panthers!  Don't mind the whining Pats cult.  Great correct call by the refs!  

StephenM.Clementson
StephenM.Clementson

At the very least it should have been a holding call, 5 yd penalty and 1 more play for pats

Jive_Turkey
Jive_Turkey

Biased much Peter King?  The pass was not catchable.  It was intercepted 20+ feet ahead of the targeted receiver.  Even IF he wasnt held (yes i admit he was held), he could not have moved into position to catch the ball. If its not catchable, no foul.

spas2k
spas2k

Subjective rules and penalties are what is going to kill football.  These stores (and the story on the hit on Brees) is all you hear about football.  Football has a rules problem and it is ruining the watch-ability of the game.

FrankBeans
FrankBeans

Here's the bottom-line, something that I think a lot of people keep forgetting.

Uncatchable means there is no way the receiver could have got to that ball.  That INCLUDES that fact that another defender intercepted it.

Look at it like this.  We all know it was underthrown.  Maybe, just maybe, Gronk could have made some miracle maneuver to get back to the ball.  But there was no way he was going to get in front of the DB who intercepted it.

If you completely remove the LB from the play (he magically disappears and never touched anyone), the ball still would have been intercepted.  Gronk had no chance.  Therefore there cannot be interference on Gronk.

gp4959
gp4959

For all you physics experts who think the ball was uncatchable watch the Sports Science clip on Sportscenter today. Can't link to it yet but it pretty much blows "uncatchable" and the NFL's explanation of the interference and interception occurring at the same time out of the water.

It would have been best for the NFLhad there not ever been a flag thrown. The fact that one was and then picked up and the subsequent attempts to justify the blown call has given the story legs.

RGTEnnessee
RGTEnnessee

Well, Well, I do not hate the patriots, but I am a Carolina Panther fan! I would have to say we from Carolina ( South and North, since Carolina represents both), do understand physics. The ball was not only underthrown, but it was thrown way to far inside, it almost looked like Brady was throwing it to the safety. And I have a lot of respect for Brady, he has been a great qb. but looking at that throw, looks like a has been. What if the situation had been reversed, and the it would had happen to Carolina? Nothing would had been said in the media. I guess all of y`all watched the whole game? The patriots were aided in two drives for scores by nothing but penalties, early in the game. We as Panthers are not going to say were sorry for winning the game, we out played the Patriots!

GaryBeauchamp
GaryBeauchamp

Yeah, yeah, we all know Carolina is the darling of the NFC South and the Saints are chopped liver.  Cam is  Hall of

Fame material already.  He is good at bragging on making first downs, a practice which used to be reserved for TDs.  The prima donnas gloat over sacks, first downs, tackles, everything.  I thought they get paid to do this routinely, it's their job, but these hams have to gloat, show boaters, exhibitionist blowhards one and all. 

Darren1
Darren1

@PritchBomb Agree completely. On the other hand, I saw Ahmad Brooks' sack and forced fumble in real time, and it appeared to me to be a legal, hard-nosed hit.

Median2
Median2

@twilli10 This EXACTLY this. If the ball is deemed uncatchable the flag can be picked up, I've seen it done before.

DonaldD
DonaldD

@twilli10 Please read the rule. Any impediment of the offensive player. Doesn't matter if the pass was underthrown.

DonaldD
DonaldD

@twilli10 Did you ever hear of defensive holding? NFL's Blandino only makes it worse with his defense of a poor call. Learn the rules

gp4959
gp4959

@JimSmith4 Couldn't resist this one before moving on;

1. "Newton, Smith, and company kicked their butts" Um, what game were you watching. Pat's had more rushing yards, passing yards, and time of possession against, admittedly, a strong defense.

2. "correctly made non call" Not according to the majority if the fans across the country (except if you live in the Carolinas, Indianapolis, Denver and Wyoming (wonder why that is), the majority of the sports writers, all of the former players not named Chris Carter (notorious Patriot hater) and the majority of former NFL officials. The only people defending this non-call are the NFL and their officials (doing a bang up job) and all of the yahoos on this board.

3."the poorly thrown low ball" Low ball. Lester is about 12' deep in the end zone and catches the ball chest high at essentially the spot Gronkowski was when Kuechly's interfered and Kuechly's momentum drove them both towards the back of end zone. This created the spacing which makes people think the ball was under thrown.

4." while this TE's momentum is moving to the back of the end zone" Watch the replay http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vng4fR8O17I#t=76 Gronkowski is heading towards the end zone to the right of the right hash mark, looking back for the ball. He enters the end zone at the lower part of the L in Carolina and is in the O about 12' into the end zone when Kuechly makes contact. It is clear Gronk is adjusting to the ball and moving across the end zone and he remains focused on the ball. It's the contact by Kuechly and his momentum that re-routes Gronkowski towards the back of the end zone.

5. Flag is correctly thrown.

BillMcGov
BillMcGov

@cuthbert I like #2. The (PAID) ESPN officiating consultant offered up a reason for picking up the flag. I haven't heard from the officiating crew who threw the flag but I did hear Austin say that the ball was uncatchable. Since then it seems that that is what everyone has harped on. The head of officiating offered up a different explanation for the flag being picked up. Is the officials explanation for picking up the flag, because the interception occurred before the interference occurred? This is the explanation that the head of officiating gave which leads me to believe it is why no penalty was called. This explanation is incorrect BTW. I guess we'll never know though since the officials who threw the flag never gave an official explanation. 

citizencharlesfosterkane
citizencharlesfosterkane

@Jive_Turkey  Twenty plus feet?  Tell me how deep the end zone is, then explain twenty plus feet.  Watch some football before commenting.  And if you admit he has being held, it should have been a holding penalty. 

cuthbert
cuthbert

@spas2k There have been subjective calls since the very first game ever played. it ha never killed it before this, and this will be forgotten before the playoffs even start.

Mike26
Mike26

@spas2k That clearly explains why it's the #1 watched sport in this country...

gp4959
gp4959

@FrankBeans Frank, once you see the Sports Science clip on espn, or it makes it's way online, you will probably have a different opinion. It pretty much does what you mention, takes Kuechly out of the way and projects where Gronk would have been. 

"Uncatchable means there is no way the receiver could have got to that ball.  That INCLUDES that fact that another defender intercepted it". So theoretically you could have a corner and a safety on a receiver and have one of them bear hug the receiver and let the other intercept it and it would not be pass interference because the ball was uncatchable?

Mike26
Mike26

@gp4959 That clip actually improves the perception of the right call being made on the field - in this case, a no-call.  Thanks for that gp!

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@gp4959 

The problem with the Sports Science theory is that it literally removes Kuechly completely and that would not be the case.  Case closed.  Game over.  Right call.  Panthers Win!!!

FrankBeans
FrankBeans

@gp4959 How can you say it blows it out of the water, when they themselves said it was "highly improbable".

Also they only explain how the interference made it harder for Gronk to slow down.  They never explain how he would miraculously lunge back towards the ball.  How he would magically get in front of the DB who ultimately intercepted the ball.  All they did was do some weird photoshop job at the end.

liquidmuse3
liquidmuse3

@gp4959 That's why the "uncatchable" designation needs to be eliminated. It is WAY too subjective, & I frankly don't even see the point in it anyway. Defender interferes or he doesn't. That said, the whole "face-guarding" rule needs to be eliminated too. Why do you have to turn around, even though you're providing great defense?

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@RGTEnnessee 

Cam Newton, Steve Smith, and company kicked the Pats butts.  Brady throws a bad pass at the end of the game that Gronk with his forward momentum can not reach and they want to whine foul.  Grow up Brady and the Pats cult.  Right call!  Panthers win!!!

coalminerrichard
coalminerrichard

@GaryBeauchamp    Spoken like a true Pats sore loser. Seems like the only one's in the country still crying about that call, which by the way, was the right call, are the Pats and their whinny fans. It's  about time they finally got to know what it feels like when a call doesn't go the way they think it should.  Since they always feel they're entitled to win, with a little luck 2 or 3 other teams will beat them this year and keep them out of the playoffs. Just can't work up any sympathy for the Pats.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@GaryBeauchamp 

You prefer the Bounty Hunting Saints that get that little extra monetary motivation to do their job and apparently far more because their big time salaries are not enough right?

FrankBeans
FrankBeans

@gp4959 @FrankBeans 

I didn't say anything like your corner/safety theory.  Clearly if one defender prevents the receiver from having a chance at a catch, that is pass interface.

That is not what happened on this play.  If that LB did not exist on that particular play, and thus Gronk was not interfered with... there was still a 0% chance he would have caught the ball because the DB was still there and between Gronk and the ball.

So, the ball was uncatchable for Gronk.

That sports science thing is still a far fetch.  They even admit it was "highly improbable".  When they simulate him lunging towards the ball, you can't take that seriously.  It literally would require him to stop on a dime and then lunge in the opposite direction.

I don't think the refs need to consider "highly improbably" or "miracle" situations.

FrankBeans
FrankBeans

@JimSmith4 @gp4959 

Good point Jim, didn't even think of that.  Let's assume that Kuechly didn't hold, but he was still in the play.  Kuechly would have still been there legally.  He doesn't have to get out of Gronk's way.

So, to catch the ball.

1)  Stop on a dime.

2)  Lunge around the LB.

3)  Lunge around the DB.

NOT POSSIBLE.

gp4959
gp4959

@FrankBeans Frank, you forgot to add the three words they said after "highly improbable"  ...."but CERTAINLY possible".  And they also mention without Kuechly's interference he would have been able to stop when the ball was 6 yards (18 feet) away from him. Kuechly ran into him at roughly the same spot Lester intercepted the ball.

All this talk does take way from a good game. Newton and Carolina played great and so did Brady and the Patriots, the first time he's had a decent compliment of weapons all season. As a Pat's fan not hppy with the loss but confident in the rest of the season.

gp4959
gp4959

@FrankBeans @JimSmith4 @gp4959 

1. Gronkowski was trying to stop

2. Kuechly runs him over

3. Lester moves into the now vacated space and catches the ball

4. (Enter comment here based on your Patriots bias)

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@FrankBeans

Frank he is one of the Pats cult members.  He throws all logic to the wind in order to spin it for his team.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@citizencharlesfosterkane

That's the point knucklehead.  Gronk didn't have a prayer in his wildest wet dreams of getting a breath on it much less a fingernail.  Get lost!

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