BRANDON: Pick up the flag -- it's time to rewrite the rules of football
Now I know that I not only hadn't seen it all, but also that I may never see it all.
I'm talking about the pass interference that wasn't pass interference. The flag with invisible yellow paint that was thrown in the end zone on the final play of Monday night's New England-Carolina NFL game.
First of all, I wasn't rooting for either team. I was rooting, however, for the officials to get the call right. And, in my opinion and in the opinion of others, they failed to do so.
In case you missed it, Carolina was leading 24-20. The Patriots were at the Panthers' 18-yard line with three seconds remaining. New England's Tom Brady threw a pass intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly interfered with Gronkowski. Carolina safety Robert Lester stepped in front of them and intercepted the pass.
The officials threw a flag for interference, then decided to wave it off. Game over.
The interpretation I heard more than once on television Monday night was that the flag was picked up because the ball never got to Gronkowski. Say what?
Referee Clete Blakeman's post-game explanation: "So 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 at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone."
OK, then, in that case, on any pass that is underthrown (does that mean underthrown by two inches or 20 yards or what??) -- intercepted or not, I guess -- it is legal for the defense to hold, hit, trip or in any way interfere with the receiver. Pass interference can never be called.
It also would not be interference, if this is the rule, if the defense grabbed or knocked down every receiver on that kind of play. Because the ball never got to any of them. Couldn't have gotten to any of them.
Wait, you say the flag was picked up not because it was "underthrown" or because it was intercepted, but because Gronkowski couldn't have caught the ball? Well, a lot of people, including analysts Steve Young and Trent Dilfer, would argue that one with you.
First of all, calling a pass "uncatchable" referee Blakeman used the word "uncatchability" is a big mistake.
The proper issue is whether the receiver can be involved in the play. He might not catch it, but he could get to it, deflect it, or hit the defender, either way changing the outcome of the play, maybe even causing the ball to change direction and wind up, say, in the hands of another offensive player. Stranger things have happened.
Saying Gronkowski couldn't have caught that pass which really means that you're saying he couldn't have been involved in the play is where this gets very interesting.
And this is where we apparently, no, obviously need to rewrite various football rules. We absolutely must, must, must now change how other plays are called, as well.
Some examples immediately come to mind:
The QB sees a receiver well-covered on the sideline. Rather than attempting to throw into the coverage and risk an interception, the QB makes a pass that hits the ground a couple of yards in front of the receiver. Before the ball gets there, the defender tackles the receiver with a vicious hit. The receiver's career is over because of injury. But there is no penalty. The ball never got to the receiver. He couldn't have caught it, anyway. Pick up the flag.
If one or more offensive players illegally hold one or more defensive players as the quarterback is back to pass, but the defensive players are not close enough to the QB to make a play, then there is no holding. The defense couldn't have gotten to the ball, i.e., couldn't have "caught" the quarterback. Pick up all the flags.
If a receiver flanked to the left sideline jumps offside on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line and the quarterback sneaks in for a touchdown to win the game with no time left on the clock, the touchdown stands. The receiver was not in position to catch that part of play. Pick up the flag.
On a pass play, the right tackle crosses the line of scrimmage by 2 yards. The QB throws a 60-yard bomb down the left sideline for a touchdown. There is no penalty for an ineligible receiver downfield, because the right tackle could not have caught the pass. Pick up the flag.
A kickoff returner catches the ball near the far sideline and goes straight up the field for a 90-yard touchdown runback. A member of the receiving team blocks an opponent in the back in the middle of the field, some 30 yards from the return man. There is no penalty, and the touchdown stands. The kicking team player who was blocked in the back could not have caught the returner. Pick up the flag.
A punt returner standing on his 15-yard line calls for a fair catch. A member of the kicking team plows into him, sending him to the hospital, out for the season. But the ball lands a few feet to the side of them. There is no penalty. The returner couldn't have caught the ball. Pick up the flag.