CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 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.