The New England Patriots lost to the Carolina Panthers 24-20 after a controversial ending on Monday Night Football.
On the final play of the game, an official threw a flag after Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly appeared to interfere with New England tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone.
If the pass interference penalty was called, the Patriots would have had one untimed play from the one-yard line to win the game.
But the officials ended up picking up the flag, declaring the game over, and running off the field without an explanation.
Tom Brady was furious after the game, chasing down the officials and cursing them out in the tunnel.
There was a ton of confusion about this. ESPN’s in-house refereeing consultant said it wasn’t pass interference, but everyone else seemed to think it was a clear penalty.
According to the rules, it should have been pass interference.
The NFL lists seven specific acts that constitute pass interference in the rulebook. Kuechly violated four of them:
- Contact by a player who is not playing the ball that restricts the opponent’s opportunity to make the catch.
- Grabbing an opponent’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass.
- Extending an arm across the body of an opponent, thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, and regardless of whether the player committing such act is playing the ball.
- Cutting off the path of an opponent by making contact with him, without playing the ball.
It’s true that when a ball is deemed “clearly uncatchable” no penalty is called. But uncatchable doesn’t simply mean, “He clearly couldn’t catch the ball from where he was standing when the contact occurred.”
It means, “He clearly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to catch the ball from where he was standing when the contact occurred.” (see the first bullet point above)
You can’t watch that play and say Gronkowski couldn’t have ran back to the ball if Kuechly didn’t grab him. Kuechly clearly restricted his opponent’s opportunity to make the catch, and thus a penalty should be called.
Gronkowski wasn’t that far away from the point of the catch, even after the contact:
This isn’t the sole reason New England lost the game. It’s a testament to how well the Panthers and Cam Newton played that the Patriots needed a last-second bailout call like this to have a chance to win.
But a penalty should have been called here.
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