CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — As "Sweet Caroline" pumped through the stadium and playoff-starved Panthers fans dressed all in black celebrated a big victory, Tom Brady ran after an official in search of an explanation.
Thrilling game, bizarre ending.
Brady and the Patriots were miffed after a penalty flag that was thrown
in the end zone on the final play was suddenly picked up and waved off
Monday night, giving the Carolina Panthers a 24-20 victory over New
England for their sixth straight win.
Cam Newton led the Panthers 83 yards on 13 plays and threw a 25-yard
touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds left to give the
Panthers the lead.
The Patriots had a chance at an improbable comeback when Brady moved
New England to the Carolina 18 with 3 seconds left and fired into the
end zone as time expired. Rookie safety Robert Lester intercepted the
pass, but an official at the back of the end zone threw a flag for pass
interference on linebacker Luke Kuechly, who had both arms wrapped
around tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The officials then gathered, however, and referee Clete Blakeman
announced there was no foul on the play and the game was over.
"There was no explanation given to me. Officials ran off the field. I
didn't see anything," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "There was a
flag thrown and then the game was over."
Blakeman said after the game that back judge Terrence Miles saw there
was contact and Kuechly was not playing the ball, and that initially
led Miles to call defensive pass interference. But Blakeman said the
officials met and decided the ball was "underthrown" and it came down
to a matter of "uncatchability."
A pass-interference call would have put the ball on the 1-yard line and
given the Patriots one more shot at a game-winning touchdown with no
time on the clock.
"You never like to end the game like that on a call but I'm pleased
that our officiating crew got together and communicated and discussed
it and ultimately we believe we got it right," Blakeman said.
An angry Brady ran down two officials to argue the call as they walked
off the field, but later said he didn't get a good look at the play.
"I don't make the calls or the rules," Brady said. "I wish it wouldn't
have come down to that. I think there were plenty of plays we could've
made. But it did, and they're going to make the call or they're not
going to make the call. But we can play better than that."
Brady conceded he was cautious on the throw.
"(Gronkowski) was kind of weaving in and out of there. I didn't really
want to throw it over his head and out of bounds, so I was a little
indecisive," he said. "It wasn't a great throw. No excuses. Should have
been a better throw."
Kuechly, who had a critical pass-interference call in a Week 2 loss to
Buffalo, was a little nervous when he saw the flag on the ground.
"I was like, 'Oh, jeez. I don't know what this is going to be,'"
Kuechly said. "My back was to Brady. I was just playing his eyes,
playing his hands, waiting for his eyes to get big and his hands to go
up and I was going to try to break it down. I didn't really see where
the ball went. I think Robert had a hand on it or something. There were
guys around that ball and that's what helps you out."
Given a reprieve, the Panthers (7-3) celebrated.
Brady finished 29 of 40 for 296 yards and one touchdown. Newton
completed 19 of 28 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. He also
ran seven times for 62 yards in what will go down as one of his best
games a pro.
After the game, Carolina coach Ron Rivera called it a "gutsy effort."
Newton's winning touchdown drive in the waning minutes of a game was
the type of leadership performance the Panthers have been waiting for
from the third-year pro.
Newton said "people want to keep making it about me and the plays that
I made, but it's not a one-man show, by far."
It just seemed that way.
He was 5 of 8 for 57 yards and ran twice for 18 yards on the go-ahead
Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, who had 62 yards on four catches,
said Newton came of age Monday night.
"It's just fantastic, just watching Cam grow, watching him lead this
team, watching him go 85 yards," Smith said. "You hear all about
statistics, about other guys having game-winning drives. Now Cam has
his game-winning drive against a big team, against a worthy opponent.
Just watching the young man grow — I just saw that young, 24-year old
Cam Newton just chipping away and just a little hint of greatness is
starting to shine through a little bit."
Carolina moved within a game of first-place New Orleans in the NFC
South. The win came eight days after a 10-9 victory over reigning NFC
champion San Francisco.
The Panthers entered the fourth quarter with a 17-10 lead, but Stevan Ridley made up for an earlier fumble with a 1-yard touchdown run and
the Patriots (7-3) took a 20-17 lead with 6:32 left when Stephen Gostkowski slipped a 26-yard field goal just inside the left upright.
Carolina came right back down the field and Newton hit the speedy Ginn
on a hitch route. Ginn escaped Kyle Arrington along the left sideline
and outraced Logan Ryan to the left pylon for his third touchdown of
Newton gave Carolina a 17-10 lead in the third quarter on an 81-yard
touchdown drive that took more than 8 minutes off the clock and
featured a scramble in which the third-year quarterback avoided four
tacklers and turned a potential 20-yard sack into a 14-yard gain and a
Newton completed all seven passes on the drive for 77 yards, finding
Greg Olsen at the right pylon with 2:10 left to put the Panthers back
"Cam did the things he needed to do to put us in position to win the
football game," Rivera said. "It has a lot to do with his maturity that
we have talked about."
Carolina entered the night as the NFL's No. 1 defense and didn't
disappoint early, sacking Brady twice and holding Gronkowski to one
catch for 14 yards in the opening half. The Panthers hadn't given up a
touchdown in eight straight quarters before Gronkowski's short TD catch
tied the score at 10 on the first drive of the second half.
Newton got Carolina the early lead by zipping a third-down throw to
Brandon LaFell near the goal line with 2:44 left in the first quarter,
capping a 90-yard drive that took more than 5 minutes off the clock.
The drive included a 42-yard catch by Smith against cornerback Aqib Talib, who drew a personal foul penalty when he refused to let go of
Smith's right foot after the receiver's second catch, setting off a
Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson left early in the third quarter
with a right knee injury but returned on New England's final drive.
NOTES: The Panthers have outscored their opponents 45-8 in the first
quarter. ... The Panthers held a moment of silence before the game for
former team President Mike McCormack, who died last week. ... Brady
fell to 13-5 on Monday night. ... Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui injured his knee in the first half and didn't return. ...
The Panthers got only 41 yards rushing on 16 carries from their three
running backs. ... Shane Vereen had 65 yards on eight receptions in his
first game since returning from a broken left wrist in the season
Panthers Beat Patriots In Disputed Finish
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