One man's opinion on the final play, and the call that wasn't
What Should Have Happened; The Final Play of Patriots/Panthers
By Mike Leslie, Sports Anchor/Digital Journalist - email
Charlotte, NC -
It was a game-changing penalty. And then it wasn't. It was pass interference. And then it was an uncatchable pass. It was going to set up an untimed down at the Panthers 1-yard line, for Tom Brady and the Patriots high-powered offense. And then the game was over, and Brady's offense was out of chances.
The final play of Monday night's tilt between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers was unfortunate. More than anything, because it at least slightly marred what was a tremendous football game between two worthy opponents.
Tom Brady was his usual, indomitable self, completing thirteen passes consecutively, at one point. He completed short passes underneath, and deep passes over the middle to set up touchdowns. He connected on a 4th & 10 pass to Rob Gronkowski up the seam for 23 yards, to keep the Patriots alive in the final minute.
But he didn't quite sparkle. The Panthers defense, while allowing Brady to hit his targets, kept everything in front of them. Despite connecting on 29 of 40 throws, Brady threw for just 296 yards. A high total, to be sure. But by comparison, Brady threw for 432 yards last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, on just 33 attempts. Brady was good, but he wasn't great.
Instead, the spotlight was reserved for Cam Newton. The Panthers third-year quarterback was at his under-control-but-brilliant best on Monday night.
Newton completed 19 of 28 passes, for 209 yards, including his own stretch of 8 consecutive completions. His throws were on target, and timely.
Newton dissected the Patriots defense with his arm and his feet. The big-time throws he made -- like a 42-yard hookup with Steve Smith in the first quarter, the laser of a touchdown strike to Greg Olsen, or the poised, on-target dart to Ted Ginn, Jr. to win the game -- were special. But his running ability was what broke the Patriots offense. A 14-yard scramble in the third quarter was Newton's signature play of the year, eluding six Patriots would-be tacklers, and winding his way through the secondary for a first down.
But all of that -- all the big-time moments delivered by Brady and Newton, all the fisticuffs exaggerated by Steve Smith and Aqib Talib, all the crazed intensity from the Panthers #blackout crowd at Bank of America Stadium -- was overshadowed by one call.
The final play -- involving a bear hug of Rob Gronkowski, by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly -- stole the show. With three seconds remaining, the Patriots had the ball at the Panthers 18. Brady eluded the Panthers defensive line, and stepped into a throw toward the end zone.
Gronkowski was bracketed by the Panthers defense. Luke Kuechly was draped all over him, and had wrapped up in the middle of the end zone, as the ball careened toward them. As Kuechly and Gronkowski, entangled, fell toward the back of the end zone, Panthers rookie safety Robert Lester undercut the throw, and intercepted the pass.
As that happened, the official behind the play threw a flag for what would have been pass interference on Kuechly. But immediately, he signaled for assistance from his fellow officials, knowing that an underthrown ball such as this one -- especially one that is tipped or intercepted -- may negate the call of pass interference.
Sure enough, the conference was had, and the officials deemed the ball was underthrown, and picked off. As a result, the flag for pass interference was accurately picked up, and waved off. As it pertains to pass interference, the call was correct.
Had the pass interfence call stood, the Patriots would have had 1st and goal at the Panthers 1-yard line, with an untimed down to be played. Not an automatic score, by any means, but certainly a positive opportunity for the Patriots offense, given their weapons.
However, if you are to look at this play in a vacuum, with the ability to get inside that rear officials head, there was an ultimately correct call to be made.
Kuechly has Gronkowski wrapped in a bear hug, in the middle of the end zone. He is epitomizing the picture-perfect definition of a hold. He is literally holding Gronkowski's body. This is indisputable.
And for those of you unfamiliar with the NFL rule book, there is no "catchable/uncatchable" stipulation regarding defensive holding. All it requires is illegal contact (i.e. holding on to a player, as Kuechly does on the play), beyond the 5-yard limit, down field.
That is what Kuechly does. Unquestionably.
So, with that said, the correct call would have been defensive holding against the Panthers.
However, Panthers fans, that does not mean that the Patriots should have won the game. Not by a long shot.
If the Patriots had been awarded what I believe to be the correct call, it would have been a 5-yard defensive holding penalty. As a result, New England would have had one more play.
One untimed down. But instead of the ball being placed at the Panthers 1-yard line, the ball would be at the Panthers 13.
The possibility of a Patriots untimed down at the Panthers 1 was no guarantee. The prospect of 1st & 10 from the 13, is even less certain. Tom Brady is good, but the man is not infallible. And the Panthers defense showed that last night.
Even if the Patriots got one more shot -- whether it was from the 1 or the 13 -- the Panthers D, in front of that blackout crowd, would have had a very big say in how that last play would go.
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