The last play of the Patriots-Panthers Monday night game was one for the ages. The officials made a snap judgment on the play, deciding to pick up a penalty flag thrown for defensive pass interference. As it turns out, they could have used instant replay to help aid their call.
Officials are not allowed to use replay to review penalties in the NFL, per the league rules, meaning they wouldn’t be able to review the pass interference penalty alone. However, as former head of officiating Mike Pereira pointed out on the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday, the referee could have gone under the hood to review whether the ball was tipped before the contact between Luke Kuechly and Rob Gronkowski occurred.
Under NFL replay guidelines, officials can review whether a ball was touched or tipped before interference occurred, since contact is legal between any defender and a receiver once a pass is tipped. So, as Pereira notes per Pro Football Talk, referee Clete Blakeman could have reviewed whether Kuechly’s restriction of Gronkowski happened before or after Panthers safety Robert Lester intercepted Tom Brady’s pass on that final play.
“This would have initiated a replay review because that aspect of the play is reviewable,” Pereira said. “You can review the touching of a pass in relationship to pass interference being called, and since it was called and then picked up, if that’s the reason it was picked up, then replay could have put it back on. So replay, somehow, should have gotten involved in this to find out exactly why they picked the flag up. And nobody has really talked about that at this point.”
Blakeman’s initial reasoning for picking up the flag was that the ball was deemed “uncatchable” by officials, negating any interference on the play. However, the NFL’s current head of officiating Dean Blandino indicated on Tuesday that the reason behind the flag being picked up dealt more with the timing of Kuechly’s restriction in relation to the ball being touched by Lester.
Whether penalties of any kind become reviewable in the foreseeable future is still a topic of debate and will likely be up for discussion for the competition committee this offseason. However, officials should at least be reminded that, while they can’t review penalties, replay is still available to aid their calls in some instances.