If you are a sports fan who doesn’t line under a rock somewhere on the dark side of the moon, you know that last Monday night’s game between the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots ended on what became a controversial call.
It didn’t have to be that way, and that is why we here at Dubsism took a few days to digest all the blather that has surrounded this situation so that we may offer our definitive breakdown.
If you are under that moon rock, here’s what happened. On the last play of the game, the Patriots have the ball at the Panthers 18-yard line, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is running what looks to be a “seam” route and ends up at the back of the end zone a few feet to the right in front of the goal post. Tom Brady’s pass is intercepted by Panther defensive back Robert Lester at a spot in the middle of the end zone about five feet to the left of the goal post. However, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is seen clearly h0lding Gronkowski, and it seems that a penalty is warranted.
That fits the simplified view of the blow-dries at ESPN who clearly don’t know the rules of football, the legions of NFL fans who love to beat on officials for the sake of beating on officials, and Patriot fans who simply can’t come to terms with the fact that their team just isn’t the dominant squad it used to be. What should have been a very simple call became immersed in so much bullshit that in the near future, fellow Sports Blog Movement collaborator Ryan Meehan and I will be doing an exhaustive breakdown of bullshit calls in the NFL and what causes them, because there is an entire hierarchy of bullshit that causes these sorts of calls.
This is the view that really makes this play look like pass interference. If this had been the only two seconds of the play, there’s a much stronger argument for that. But there’s three problems with this. The first is that it completely ignores what was happening before Gronkowski and Kuechly got to the back of the end zone. It also give you no idea of when the ball is in the air. Lastly, and most importantly, it does not show you the officials.
Here’s why all that matters. First of all, it is clear that there was plenty of contact between Kuechly and Gronkowski before either of them had picked up the ball was in the air. Kuechly never does, because he never turns around, which does make this look bad, until you realize Gronkowski has no fucking idea where the ball is until its too late. If you doubt that, watch the reaction of Robert Lester. From the minute the ball is thrown, Lester has the best bead on it of anybody. He’s literally fighting his way around two guys who are taking themselves out of the play.
When Lester breaks around those two, Kuechly doesn’t know the ball is coming, Gronkowski looks more like a guy slowing down, not trying to come back to a clearly underthrown ball, and Lester’s line of travel is perpendicular to that of Kuechly and Gronkowski. In other words, Lester had the clear path to the ball, and even if you want to claim the “hold” on Kuechly’s part impeded Gronkowski, take note of how their legs make contact right before that. Recievers and defenders tangle their legs all the time, and officials never call that “pass interference;” they call it “incidental contact.”
When the ball is in the air is crucial as well. From the above GIF, the clear cue when the ball is coming is the reaction of Lester. When he is breaking around Gronkowski and Kuechly, he is watching Brady winding up, and he’s headed for a spot where he’s guessing the ball is going. At that moment, the ball is still in Brady’s hand, and Gronkowski and Kuechly are playing a serious game of “patty-cake” with each other. Remember, the NFL has a completely different set of rules based on where the ball is. Once the ball is in the air, football becomes a decidedly non-contact sport. Once the ball is in the air, contact between a receiver and a defender is interference,m with the penalty being a first down at the spot of the foul, or the 1-yard line if the penalty occurs in the end zone. But before the ball is in the air, a defender initiating contact with a receiver is not allowed; the penalty for doing so is five yards and an automatic first down.
Here’s the part why they keep using this clip to sell the “pass interference” idea. Did you notice you don’t see the back judge who threw the flag? The reason why they don’t is because he doesn’t throw the flag until after the ball was intercepted, and he throws the flag at the back of the end zone. NFL officials are trained to throw flags at the spot of the foul, unless it is a line-of-scrimmage violation. NFL officials are also trained to throw the flag on the first penalty they see; they are to throw the flag for the first penalty, and to throw their hat if they see a second penalty.
In the following photo taken at the moment of the interception AND from an angle not flattering to the “pass interference” crowd, let’s play a little game I like to call “Magic Numbers.”
- 5 – The number of Panthers in this picture.
- 4 – The number of Panthers in this picture as close, if not closer than Gronkowski to the ball.
- 3 – The number of yards Gronkowski is from the ball.
- 2 – The number of Panthers immediately between Gronkowski and the ball.
- 1 – The number of guys in this picture (Lester) who knew where ball was going to be and made the play on it.
- 0 – The number of penalty flags on the field, and Gronkowski’s chances of catching that ball.
The Patriots did such a poor job of not telegraphing this play that even Jon “This Guy” Gruden saw it coming, and he has issues with predicting sunrise. That’s why every Panther from Luke Kuechly to Bobby Seale is in that picture. Even more obvious was the fact that everybody thought the play was going to be in the back of the end zone up high, which is where you would expect it to be when the target is a 6’7″ hyper-athletic tight end. That’s why everybody in the picture is heading to the cross-bar, with the sole exception of Lester, who was the first guy in end zone. Even Danny Amendola is in the back of the end zone (where he happens to be more wide open than a Kardashian vagina during NBA All-Star Weekend…I’ll come back to that).
That picture illustrates pretty clearly why even if Kuechly had hit Gronkowski in the face with a chainsaw, he’d be more guilty of assault with a deadly weapon than he would be of pass interference. The problem the “pass interference crowd has is they are hung up on the position of the ball relative to Gronkowski. Their standard mantra I’ve been inundated with goes something like this:
“Brady’s pass would have landed about 5 yards deep in the end zone, and Kuechly’s ‘holding’ began about 4 yards into the end zone. Without that contact, Gronkowski could have made a play for the ball. The Patriots should have been given an untimed down at the 1-yard line for pass interference in the end zone.”
That logic falls apart pretty quickly when you stop to consider that no amount of rationalizing makes all those Panther defenders disappear. Once Lester beat Gronkowski for position on the ball, which was BEFORE the ball was in the air, pass interference was no longer possible by rule, because there was no way Gronkowski could catch that ball. In order to do so, even without Kuechly’s contact, he would have had to get through two men to get to the ball, and he would have had to do so in under a second from the time he even remotely looks like he knows the ball is coming. Not to mention, Lester had already beaten him to the spot, which means Gronkowski would have likely made contact with him before getting to the ball, which would have meant committing offensive pass interference in the process. No amount of fact-twisting changes the fact that Kuechly and Lester were between Gronkowski and the ball.
Even less fact-twisting comes into the reason why the officials picked up the flag. Is there a better way of saying the ball was uncatchable by Gronkowski because the ball was caught by the guy who broke for it first and therefore beat everybody to it? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
So after all that, here’s what the call boils down to. The back judge made the right decision to throw the flag, but he threw it too late and at the wrong spot, thus signifying the wrong penalty. By calling it pass interference, the back judge gave the referee no choice but to overturn the call. By rule, pass interference calls include the judgement of the referee as to whether or not the ball was catchable, and despite all the “Warren Commission/Magic Bullet”-type twistery Patriots fans and ESPN want you to believe, Gronkowski was never going to catch that ball. Never.
Having said that, let’s talk about why Patriots fans are so adamant about this call. To be honest, it didn’t help that the NFL gave such a bullshit explanation of this. The NFL Vice-President of Officiating Dean Blandino gave a press conference on Tuesday night and offered a
professionally-worded complete pantload of an explanation that pissed off everybody because of it’s non-committal nature. His position was that the officials made a “tight judgment call” and “followed proper protocol.” That’s a nice way of not saying the zebras got it wrong, and not saying they got it right either.
That’s because you can’t look at the actions of the officials collectively. There’s a little bit of praise and a little bit of blame to go all around here. The back judge made the right call to call a penalty, but he flagged the wrong infraction. The unimpeachable call would have been to call illegal contact. The questionable call would have been defensive holding. Both of those would have resulted in a five-yard penalty with an automatic first down. Since the game clock had run out and the game cannot end on a defensive penalty, the result should have been the Patriots being given one untimed down from the Panther 13-yard line.
The truly bad call would have been pass interference, since it would have been called in the end zone, and therefore would have given the Patriots an untimed down from Panther 1-yard line. Not only has it been established why pass interference was not the call to make by rule, no referee in the world is going to give the Patriots a chance to win the game on a quarterback sneak when they clearly didn’t deserve it. Forget about the rule book; look at how the Patriots played. They kept taking themselves out of positions to win, the last play had two of them.
First of all, you can’t tell me something was wrong given the fact the whole world was going to the post except the guy playing deep safety. The two Patriots in the picture are along the end line, yet the ball is in the middle of the end zone. Plus, as I mentioned, one of those (Danny Amendola) is the textbook definition of “wide fucking open.” So, not only did Tom Brady make what was probably one of the five worst throws of his career, he completely missed an easy game-winning touchdown had he gone to Amendola.
But even before that, the Patriots stumble-fucked their way out of any claim of deserving to win this game.
There were missed opportunities all through this game. It starts with the Shane Vereen fumble in the red zone in the first quarter. Then there was the bizarre play-calling decision to run a play-action pass on 3rd-and-1 in the red zone in the fourth quarter with the game tied. Then came the moment where the Patriots lost the game.
The moment Cam Newton rolled through the Patriot defense like the Wehrmacht blitzed across France was the moment you knew the Patriots were in serious trouble. While Patriots’ fans have spent every waking moment bitching about that call, they are failing to realize something Ryan Meehan and I have been saying on Sports Blog Movement all season long. The Patriots simply are fundamentally not that good, and now Tom Brady is becoming quite inconsistent.
FACT: The Patriots can’t stop the run. Cam Newton is just the latest example of that. The best example is when Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones decided to tackle like high-school players allowing Newton to scramble for a game-changing first down. Keeping C-list runners like Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart at bay doesn’t mean the run defense has improved.
FACT: The Patriots a starting to play sloppy, undisciplined football. This team used to never commit big penalties, and they committed at least three of them in this game. Logan Mankins and Aqib Talib both drew the yellow laundry for 15-yard personal fouls. Then there’s the ironic Devin McCourty holding penalty, which is the call Patriots’ fans should really be bitching about because not only did it give the Panthers a crucial first-down, Carolina tight end Greg Olsen could have easily been flagged for offensive pass interference on the play.
FACT: Tom Brady is becoming inconsistent. This is what really will get Patriots fans pissed off, but the fact remains that whether he is hurt or not, he simply isn’t the automatic Tom Brady of old. Throughout this season, Brady has waffled between incredibly mediocre with shades of his former brilliance, and Monday night was a microcosm of that. Brady looked sharp leading the Patriots back from a ten-point deficit, then he threw eight incompletions late in the game. Even in the moment of of that last play, Brady got flustered by pressure, courtesy of an offensive line which also ins’t very good. Flag or no flag, there’s no question that Brady underthrew that ball to a spot where there were far more black jerseys than white ones.
What Patriots fans need to take away from Monday night is that the picked-up flag at the end of the game isn’t why New England lost that game. It was just 1 play out of 121 in the game, but it gets a special spot-light because it was the last one. There are so many reasons why the Patriots should have never allowed this game to come down to that. If the examples I’ve mentioned aren’t enough, take a look at Kyle Arrington‘s missed tackle on the Ted Ginn touchdown. Take a look at the fact that Aqib Talib is now clearly a liability in secondary because it is obvious that hip injury is still affecting him. Take a look at the fact that the entire secondary looks like an emergency room; they were missing starters Alfonzo Dennard and Steve Gregory, and Arrington and Talib also missed time during that game with injuries.
That brings us to the bottom line. The Patriots should have won this game by ten points, but they didn’t because they played poorly for the majority of it. Focusing on that last play is to ignore all the other reasons why the Patriots lost, and failing to address those issues simply means more Patriot losses are coming, like the first time they have to go on the road in the play-offs.