Patriots' Bill Belichick offers explanation for grabbing official
Head coach says he was looking for explanation if play was under review
All Bill Belichick wanted was an explanation. He'll probably end up with a fine.
Wrapped up in an intense game with fellow AFC power Baltimore, the coach of the New England Patriots grabbed the arm of a replacement official after the Ravens won 31-30 on a last-play field goal Sunday night.
Belichick had an angry look, but didn't pursue him.
He was much calmer on Monday.
"When the game was over I went out and I was really looking for an explanation from the officials as to whether the play was under review," he said. "I did try to get the official's attention as he was coming off the field to ask that, but I really wasn't able to do that."
The usually laconic Belichick discussed at length the incident that followed Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal, which capped Baltimore's comeback from a 30-21 deficit in the fourth quarter and dropped the Patriots (1-2) to their first sub-.500 record in nine years.
The kick appeared to go just inside the top of the right upright or slightly above it.
Belichick said a field-goal kick is not reviewable if it goes above the top of an upright, but is reviewable if it goes below the top and to either side of it.
"I saw our players waving that it was no good and I saw the officials giving the signal that it was good," he said. "I just wasn't sure from where I was standing whether the ball, when it went over the crossbar, was above the upright or in between or not in between the uprights.
"So I didn't know whether or not that play was going to be under review or whether it wasn't."
His contact with the official was very brief, but the NFL is taking a hard line against coaches while it has locked out regular officials in a labour dispute.
On Monday, it fined Denver Broncos coach John Fox $30,000 and defensive co-ordinator Jack Del Rio $25,000 for arguing with replacement officials a week ago. NFL executive vice-president of football operations Ray Anderson said he is reviewing the conduct of Belichick and the Ravens' John Harbaugh.
In his postgame news conference Belichick said he didn't expect to get fined. On Monday, he didn't mention the possibility of a fine or having touched the official.
"I've coached in this league a long time and never been penalized, never had any incidents with officials or anything like that," he said. "I have never meant any disrespect or in any way tried to abuse or be disrespectful to the officials and the job that they do. I was just trying to get an explanation for, obviously, an important call.
"That's the No. 1 thing between coaches and officials. It's always at the forefront. It's just communication of what's going on, what's happening."
Back in 2000, Belichick's first season as New England's coach, his communication with referee Johnny Grier resulted in the Patriots and Miami Dolphins returning to the field for the final play after about 35 minutes in the locker rooms.
Drew Bledsoe had just been called for a fumble and an illegal forward pass as time ran out and the teams left the field. Belichick said Monday that as he was walking off the field he told Grier the play appeared to be an incompletion and the Patriots should have another play. But Grier said, "No. That's the ruling. The game is over," Belichick recalled.
"We go back into the locker room [and] 10 minutes or so later, Johnny comes back and says they're reviewing the play, we may have to go back out and finish the game," he said. "About five minutes after that, when the players got dressed, we came back out for a final play in that game.
"I've been through a situation in the final play of the game where it's over, but it's not over, that type of thing. That was really the situation last night. So, I was trying to get the official's attention to get an explanation on it and in no way was I trying to do anything other than that."
There were questionable penalty calls throughout the game.
"I'm trying to focus on coaching our football team," Belichick said when asked about his frustration with replacement officials. "We need to do a better job of controlling the things that we need to control."
There were 14 penalties against the Ravens and 10 against the Patriots.
"We've all got to understand that, hey, they're making those calls on both sides of the ball. There's some good and bad calls on the Ravens [Sunday] night. There were some good and bad ones on us," Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch said Monday on WEEI radio. "As players, we need to remove ourselves from what the refs are doing and just go out and play our game."
Last season's AFC champions haven't been doing that up to their usual standards, having lost 20-18 to Arizona before Sunday's setback.
The Patriots led 30-21 with 10:50 left, then punted. The Ravens scored with 4:01 remaining, making it 30-28, but Tom Brady and the offence couldn't use up the entire clock. Another punt gave Baltimore the ball with 1:58 remaining.
Then New England's defence struggled, capped by Devin McCourty's pass interference that gave Baltimore the ball at the Patriots 7-yard line. Two plays later, Tucker made his winning kick.
"We just don't play well when we need to," Brady said. "We've got to play our best when it means the most, and we need to start winning close games."