Charlotte (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
''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.''