The NFL game isn't getting any easier to officiate, with enhanced player safety measures and definitions of the simplest plays, such as a completed catch, evolving on a yearly basis.

Every call is under more intense scrutiny than ever, thanks to the game's unprecedented popularity, high-definition TV, social media and blogs that replay mistakes on an endless loop.

Week 11 in the NFL brought a range of emotions depending on your affiliation, all with the flip of a flag.

First there was Sunday's roughing the passer call on San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks, negating a Drew Brees fumble that could have sealed an upset victory at New Orleans and allowing the Saints to rally in the final three minutes.

Then there was the officials' decision to pick up a flag for pass interference on the final play of the Panthers' win Monday night, even though replays showed linebacker Luke Kuechly wrapping up Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski before the ball was intercepted.

"It's become very difficult for the officials, because they're getting away from the game as we know it," Jim Daopoulos, who spent 11 years as an NFL back judge and umpire and later worked in the league office as supervisor of officials, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday.

"It's even more difficult for the officials to really understand what they want called and when they want it called. It's just very frustrating for them right now."

The replacement refs are long gone, but controversy over close calls in big spots never will be.

"This is a game played by humans, refereed by humans," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "You're going to have human error and human decisions. And we live by them because, no matter how much we talk about them, they're not going to change."

Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, explained in a Tuesday appearance on the league-owned NFL Network why the flag on Brooks appeared correct. He stopped short of saying the same about the non-call on the Panthers, referring to it as a "ight judgment call.

Asked if officials were wrong, Blandino said, "I wouldn't say they were wrong. They have to make this call. They used proper mechanics. They got together after the play to determine that, in their judgment, that the contact occurred simultaneous with the ball being intercepted."

That differs somewhat from the explanation given to two pool reporters Monday night by referee Clete Blakeman, who said "uncatchability" was a factor with an underthrown ball.

Longtime NFL referee Gerry Austin, who serves as ESPN's officiating expert, used the same logic during Monday's broadcast – saying the ball was "clearly not catchable" and Gronkowski stayed on his intended path, wiping out a potential holding call.

But Daopoulos said officials should have stood by his back judge Terrence Miles' initial call rather than picking up the flag, especially if the pass being uncatchable factored into the conversation.

"We as officials have always been taught, for a ball to be uncatchable, it has to be clearly out of the field of play or it has to be a kind of — I probably shouldn't say this — a Tim Tebow-type pass that lands 15 yards in front of you," Daopoulos said.

"You usually see uncatchable passes down the sideline or long passes down the middle of the field. But even down the middle of the field, they don't want it uncatchable, because these guys make up so much distance so quickly. 'Uncatchable' should have never been brought in there."

Blakeman told the pool reporters he felt confident in the call after viewing TV replays in their locker room and was pleased with the communication between Miles, side judge Greg Meyer and umpire Garth DeFelice on the field.

"They don't have slow motion replay, and ultimately, they ruled that the restriction occurred simultaneously with the ball being touched," Blandino said. "When you watch it at full speed, you could see why they would make that call on the field."