CHARLOTTE – The Monday Night Football stage was not too large for the Carolina Panthers who won a thrilling – and controversial – game against the New England Patriots 24-20. In the Panthers biggest game since a 2008 playoff loss, 74,000 fans, most of whom wore black to match the Panthers’ uniforms, rocked Bank of America Stadium from before kickoff until the final play.
Panthers (7-3) quarterback Cam Newton drove the team 83 yards on 13 plays for the go-ahead touchdown, yet the Pats (7-3) still had a chance to win the game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led his team to the Carolina 18 with 3 seconds left and threw a pass into the end zone as time expired. His target, tight end Rob Gronkowski was in the back of the end zone with Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly draped all over him. The pass fell short and was intercepted by rookie safety Robert Lester, however, an official at the back of the end zone threw a flag for pass interference.
Moving quickly, the officials gathered and waved off the flag, ruling Gronkowski could not have caught an underthrown ball.
Ever since that call, all the talk shows have been commenting about this. Had the call been upheld, the Patriots would have had the ball at the Panthers one-yard line and would have had another shot at a game-winning touchdown with no time on the clock.
If you haven’t seen the play, watch it here.
The call culminated a gutsy effort by the Panthers, who have now won six in a row, matching a six-game streak in 2005 for the second-longest in franchise history. The 1996 team won seven-in-a-row.
Newton completed 19 of 28 for 209 yards and three touchdowns, with a passer rating of 125.4. He also was the game’s leading rusher with 62 yards on seven carries.
Carolina scored on drives of 90, 57, 81 and 83 yards, and Cam Newton was every bit the match of Tom Brady on Monday night in Charlotte.
Newton’s 14-yard scramble had a Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens running back) feel to it. It was borderline unbelievable, certainly the play of the game. During the pre-game portion of ESPN’s telecast, analyst Jon Gruden said Newton would make a play that would show you his athleticism. I had to smile as the play began to unfold. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Newton covered 75.8 yards and dodged six defenders. The best move, when he had two defenders in front of him, coming at him, was a step-back-Jack backward jump that helped free him. He also was helped by a first-class block up field by fullback Mike Tolbert.
He led the Panthers on a 90-yard, nine-play drive to begin the scoring, with wideout Steve Smith making a huge 42-yard catch – a season-long – beating Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, and starting a long night for the former Tampa Bay corner. Smith and Talib got into two skirmishes on the drive, with Talib getting flagged for 15 yards on one.
Leading 7-0 after the first quarter, the Panthers have now gone 14 consecutive games without allowing a first-quarter touchdown.
The win keeps the Panthers just one game back of New Orleans (8-2) in the NFC South, and still, if the playoffs began today, the Cats would be the 5 seed. The Panthers and Saints will meet two times in a three-week period in December, which should solidify things.
The Panthers face a short week, and a two-hour flight to South Florida for Sunday’s game at feisty Miami, before returning to Charlotte to face Tampa Bay.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
Referee Clete Blakeman, speaking to pool reporters after the game, said he believes the crew got the call right. Blakeman’s statement, in part, was this: “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 immediate at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone. So there was a determination that, in essence, uncatchability that the ball was intercepted at or about the same time the primary contact against the receiver occurred.”
In the 2013 NFL Digest of Rules, under Article 2 of pass-interference penalties, one of the acts that defines interference is: “a) Contact by a player who is not playing the ball that restricts the opponent’s opportunity to make the catch.” In many analysts’ opinions, Kuechly made contact with Gronkowski while not playing the ball, and it restricted Gronkowski’s opportunity to make the catch. In my opinion, yes, that happened, but since the ball was intercepted, to me, the point is moot.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: Realistically, we’re just 7-3. We’re not No. 1, and that’s the ultimate goal. … We can’t just be satisfied with the performance. It’s not time for us to pat ourselves on the back.”
Newton on not only a huge win for this season, but a huge win for the franchise. It was symbolically important: “It was pretty cool.”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera: “It was a gutsy effort. It wasn’t our best defensive effort. But it most certainly was one of our best offensive efforts.”
“It feels very good to win football games like we did this week and last week.”