The NFL gave a half-hearted stamp of approval to the controversial call that ended the Carolina Panthers' 24-20 win over the New England Patriots in the Monday night game.
League vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, speaking Tuesday on NFL Network, defended the officiating crew's decision not to call a penalty on Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly for interfering with New England tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone. The pass by quarterback Tom Brady was intercepted by safety Robert Lester, sealing the Panthers' win.
Blandino said of the officiating crew, "I wouldn't say they were wrong," but he did not say they were right. He emphasized that it was a judgment call.
A flag was thrown on the play, but the officials decided not to assess a penalty, ending the game with no further explanation. Later, referee Clete Blakeman said the ball was uncatchable, citing the fact that Lester made the catch about 5 yards ahead of where Gronkowski finished on the play.
Blandino's explanation included no mention of whether the ball was catchable. Instead, he maintained that the officials determined Kuechly did not interfere with Gronkowski according to the letter of the law.
"There was contact, but there is contact on a lot of passing plays down the field," Blandino said. "The issue isn't the contact. The issue is the restriction -- did it occur prior to the ball being touched. The officials made a tight judgment call and they determined the restriction occurred just as the ball was being touched (by Lester). ...
"They have to make this call. They used proper mechanics. They got together after the play to determine that, in their judgment, that the contact occurred simultaneous with the ball being intercepted."
Earlier Tuesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick refused to criticize the call.
"I don't really have any comment to add about the officiating or any of those calls," he said. "If you have any questions on that, you can talk to the league office and the officiating department, let them give their explanation on them. It's not really our job to call the game, it's to play it and coach it. Whatever calls they make are the ones that we live with."