It was the game of the year in the NFL. It featured an electric performance from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady, and the signature game of Cam Newton‘s young career.
And yet it will be remembered for a controversial non-call on the game’s final play.
The Carolina Panthers outlasted the New England Patriots 24-20 Monday night after the officials picked up a penalty flag on a throw in the end zone from Brady to Rob Gronkowski. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, with his back to the ball, appeared to clearly hold Gronkowski while the ball was in the air. A flag was thrown, but the officials deemed that it was not a penalty after a quick conference.
“There is no foul on the play,” was the official explanation given during the game.
“There was no explanation given to me,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They ran off the field. I didn’t see it.
“I don’t know what happened. There was a flag thrown. Then the game was over.”
Instead of one final play at the Panthers’ 1-yard line, the Patriots only had a dejected walk back to the locker room.
“I don’t think I’ve got any more nails. I was biting them all night,” Newton said. “The defense stood up at the end. We answered the call all night on offense and took advantage of our opportunities and got the job down.”
Newton connected with Brandon LaFell on a 9-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and the teams traded second-quarter field goals to leave the Panthers ahead 10-7 at half-time.
Brady and Gronkowski connected on a 9-yard touchdown pass 4:29 into the third quarter but Newton answered with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen 8:21 later to give the Panthers a 17-10 lead.
New England equalized on Stevan Ridley’s 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and the Patriots went ahead 20-17 on Stephen Gostkowski’s 26-yard field goal with 6:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, setting up Carolina’s march for the game-winning touchdown.
“We came up short. It wasn’t good enough,” said Belichick. “We just didn’t make enough plays.”
The Panthers are 3-3 all-time against the Patriots, although New England won the biggest of the matchups by beating Carolina 32-29 in Super Bowl 38.