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Panthers Top Patriots on Monday Night

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

A controversial no-call hangs over what was otherwise a great game.

Panthers Top Patriots on Monday Night

A few thoughts on last night's Monday Night Football matchup that saw the Carolina Panthers win their second-straight statement game 24-20 over the New England Patriots.

• The obvious elephant in the room: a clear pass interference (or at least defensive holding) was not called on the final play of regulation. Tom Brady was looking for Rob Gronkowski down the middle when he was wrapped up by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. Robert Lester came underneath and intercepted the pass. A flag was thrown by back judge Terrence Miles, who then picked it up without giving an explanation and ended the game. ESPN's in-house official, former NFL referee Gerry Austin, agreed with the decision to pick up the flag because the pass was underthrown. Fox analyst and former VP of officiating Mike Pereira disagreed, saying on Twitter that they should have stayed with the call since the flag was thrown.*

(* The fact that two former members of the same officiating organization have different views on the same call is its own problem altogether.)

Head referee Clete Blakeman explained well after the game ended that once the call was made, two more referees came in to discuss it and claimed because the ball was uncatchable since the contact occurred at or around the same time as the interception in the end zone. Lester intercepting it basically made the throw uncatchable. Brady and Gronkowski each took the high road after when speaking to reporters (though Brady did give Blakeman a serious F-Bomb running into the tunnel), but I can't say I would have done the same.

A few problems there. First is that the Kuechly clearly made contact before Lester came in for the interception. And it wasn't even subtle contact; Keuchly put his arms all the way around Gronkowski and kept moving him towards the back of the end zone. Kuechly was in violation of several rules that would constitute either defensive holding or pass interference in the NFL's Official Rulebook (Rule 8, Section 4, Article 6; Section 5, Article 2, a, c, d, e).

And to boot, it doesn't say anything in the section on Pass Interference about the "catchability" of the pass. To be fair, that part is unwritten. Obviously DPI is subjective and if a ball is thrown way out of reach of a player (say out of the end zone or clearly out of bounds) the call shouldn't be made. But this didn't seem like one of those times. And you know what else makes the pass "uncatchable?" The pass interference by Kuechly. You can argue whether or not Gronkowski would have been able to make a play on the ball, but he simply wasn't given the chance to. That's why some sort of penalty has to be called there, even if it's just a defensive holding. The Patriots deserved another down, or at the very least a proper explanation from the head referee at the time as to why no interference was called.

• Aside from that play to end things, this was a terrific overall game between the Panthers and Patriots. Carolina's defense withstood the New England offense (now at full force with RB Shane Vereen back) and held New England to 20 points. They pressured Tom Brady, sacking him twice and applying numerous QB hits. They forced a big Stevan Ridley fumble in the red zone during the first half. And they got the big interception on that final play. The front seven is playing fantastic, physical defense. New England adapted, but they were able to counter most of the adjustments.

• Cam Newton has had his difficulties in close games during his brief NFL career, but he looked poised and in complete control last night against the Patriots. Newton has pretty much been this good all along, but he looked incredible last night. He went 19/28 for 209 yards and three touchdowns (with the last coming with just a minute left) and added 62 yards rushing. He was dynamic all evening and was at his very best on a big third down in the third quarter where it looked like he was going to be sacked on three different occasions. Here's the play in GIF form via Kissing Suzy Kolber:

Seriously, he looks like Bo Jackson out there just running away from defenders.

• It was only his first game back, but Shane Vereen is going to help Tom Brady so much in that offense. You can see the impact he had in the passing game just last night (eight receptions for 65 yards out of the backfield or lined up as a receiver) and it's just one more weapon that he can utilize and integrate into an offense that hasn't been fully complete all season long. 

• The New England defense played admirably, but they are clearly missing key starters Vince Wilfork and Jerrod Mayo. They can get by, but Belichick is going to have to really gameplan in order for this unit to be formidable come the playoffs. I'm trying to imagine how they will hold up against Peyton Manning and the Broncos next Sunday night.

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