STAMFORD, Conn. – Jan. 5, 2015 – On today’s debut of ProFootballTalk Live with Mike Florio, a new three-hour football-focused program on NBC Sports Radio, Mike Florio interviewed Dean Blandino, NFL VP of Officiating, and discussed Sunday’s controversial fourth-quarter pass play involving Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens and Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew.
Weekdays at Noon ET, the show features Florio’s critically-acclaimed NFL insight, all-encompassing coverage of the league with the most current news and analysis, and thought-provoking debate. Monday’s debut show also featured interviews with Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, and Tom Curran of CSN-New England.
Following is a transcript of Florio’s interview with Blandino:
Blandino (on fourth-quarter Hitchens-Pettigrew play): “When I look at the play, it’s a judgment call. I think it’s debatable. I think the defender is not playing the ball, that’s the first thing the official looks for. Then, you have to see significant contact that hinders the receiver’s ability to make the catch. There’s contact on the shoulder with the left hand, the back judge felt there was enough for pass interference. The head linesman came in, from his perspective felt it wasn’t enough, it was minimal contact – the side judge as well – and they decided to pick [the flag] up. I think it’s a judgment call. I think it’s close. I would have certainly supported the call had they left the flag down, but I do think it’s a very close judgment call that could have went either way.”
Florio: “What do we make of the shirt grab that you can see? It looks like that happened right before the ball was thrown. Anthony Hitchens, Cowboys linebacker, clearly grabs and tugs the shirt of Lions tight Brandon Pettigrew – should that have been holding, is that part of the interference?”
Blandino: “That’s holding. There’s no two ways about it. That’s a jersey grab. That’s a foul for holding that could’ve been called. A jersey grab like that, before the ball is thrown, is defensive holding.”
Florio: “You say ‘could’ve been,’ ‘could’ve been’ or ‘should’ve been’?
Blandino: “Well, it should’ve been, sure. Had somebody seen it, then they should have called it. It obviously wasn’t recognized on the field, but that’s defensive holding.”
Florio: “The administration of the penalty was, I would say, not ideal. What should have happened in that situation? You have Pete Morelli, the referee, declare that it was pass interference, while Fox was talking about it, for the people at home. Morelli said there was no foul on the play. What should have happened ideally in that situation?”
Blandino: “Ideally, I think mechanically it could have been handled much better. We don’t want to make an announcement that there’s a penalty, start to put the football down, then make another announcement that we’re picking up the flag. We want to get together, get all of the information before there is an initial announcement. Had that happened, it would have mitigated some of the response to this. The head linesman came in, he didn’t recognize that there was foul initially, he went over to the back judge as Pete was making the announcement – would have preferred Pete not to make the announcement that quick – and to wait, get together, talk about it and decide whether we were going to pick up the flag or not. That part of it, I think we could have handled better.”
Florio: “It seems like an art form in coming up with a right way to explain what happened. Every referee has their own style…What we got from Pete Morelli was initial call, pass interference, and then we got, there is no foul for pass interference – what should he have said?”
Blandino: “We want him to make a clear, concise, succinct announcement to why the flag was picked up – that there wasn’t enough contact for pass interference. Hopefully that will help explain it, clarify it, so we’d like the referee to give some kind of explanation. He did make an announcement, it was as Troy [Aikman] and Joe [Buck] were talking to viewers at home, so it didn’t come out very clear over the broadcast. We certainly wanted him to explain concisely why the flag was picked up.”
Florio: “One of the criticisms about this is we have an all-star [crew] of officials who haven’t worked together, so that makes it difficult to properly communicate. Rock, scissors, paper who’s right, who gets listened to – how much of a factor is that in this? Will this renew discussions of using different crews instead of putting guys together who haven’t worked together all year?”
Blandino: “I don’t think that was the factor that ultimately led to this situation happening. I think when you look at this crew makeup, you do have four officials that have worked together. Both the head linesman and the line judge were on the same crew all year, and the back judge and the umpire were on the same crew. Right now, we have an individual-based system, that’s been negotiated in the CBA with the referees’ union. They bargained for that, so we really can’t do anything until after the 2015 season. But I think there’s pros and cons to both. Most of these officials have worked together at some point during their career. I think our mechanics have been standardized. We standardized all of our mechanics over the last two years and put together a manual. It’s not like a team where they have a different game plan and different terminology. It’s standard across the board so officials can move seamlessly in and out of different crews. That happens during the year, as well as you have injuries and illnesses and conflicts in the schedule. So, I don’t think that was a major contributing factor. It’s something that we’ll obviously continue to look at after the 2015 season since there’s pros and cons to both crews and individual-based assignments.”
Florio: “After the flag was initially thrown, Dez Bryant, Cowboys wide receiver, runs out on to the field without a helmet on…he’s coming out to argue the call, no flag thrown – do you agree with that decision?”
Blandino: “I think we have to look at the rule. It’s not an automatic penalty. The helmet off – I think we have to take that away – because the helmet removal applies to a player who’s in the game and he takes his helmet off to confront an official or an opponent, or some kind of demonstration after a play. The officials have discretion there. They have discretion when a player comes off the bench and what he’s doing – is he confronting me, is he confronting an opponent? Certainly would have supported a call for unsportsmanlike conduct there had it been made, but in the judgment of the officials in the heat of the moment, they gave the sidelines some leeway. Again, it’s not an automatic penalty in that situation, but we certainly would have supported a call there.”
Florio: “There’s still some images floating around that seem to show offensive interference or some grabbing of the face mask by Brandon Pettigrew of Anthony Hitchens. Anything that you saw that would suggest the tight end did anything he shouldn’t have done?”
Blandino: “I didn’t see much. There is some contact with the mask. He didn’t grab it and pull and twist or turn the head. I thought that was minimal contact. I think if you take the hold out of this with the jersey grab – just take that out of the equation – I think it’s a tough judgment call. It’s debatable and could’ve gone either way. I didn’t think there was anything Pettigrew did that would have warranted a foul there.”
Florio: “The tinfoil hat crowd is out now because you were on the Cowboys’ party bus back in August, and that’s something that has come full circle. Dean’s presence on the Cowboys party bus means that the Cowboys win on a controversial call. How do you react when you hear that stuff?”
Blandino: “That’s something that it happened – one has nothing to do with the other. I understand why some people might look at that, and there’s a perception there, and obviously I’ve been through that and my personal growth and what I need to do. But it’s been something that has nothing to do with how the game was officiated. There were calls that go for or against the Cowboys all year. The was a replay review play earlier in the game that I’m a part of, that decision went in favor of the Lions. People can believe what they want to believe but one had nothing to do with the other.”
ProFootballTalk Live with Mike Florio also streams live on ProFootballTalk.NBCSports.com. On-demand replays of the program will be available on the NBC Sports Radio app, NBCSportsRadio.com and ProFootballTalk.NBCSports.com.
Florio, who created the innovative, NFL-focused football website ProFootballTalk.com, partnered with NBC Sports in July 2009. Since then, both PFT and NBCSports.com have seen tremendous growth in traffic, and Florio has expanded the PFT brand to include ProFootballTalk on NBCSN, the digital program PFT Live, and now the NBC Sports Radio program.
In addition to hosting Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, Florio is a regular contributor to NBC’s acclaimed Football Night in America, the most-watched studio show in sports, the Sunday Night Football postgame show on NBC, and the Sunday Sports Report on NBCSN.
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