CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the Carolina Panthers celebrated their sixth straight victory, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were left wondering why a penalty that could have saved them on the final play was waved off.
Cam Newton threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds left and Carolina held off New England 24-20 Monday night when officials picked up a flag in the end zone on the final play.
Newton drove the Panthers 83 yards on 13 plays for the go-ahead touchdown, but the Patriots had a chance at an improbable comeback when Brady moved New England to the Carolina 18 and fired into the end zone on the final play.
The pass was intercepted by safety Robert Lester, but back judge Terrence Miles threw a flag after it appeared linebacker Luke Kuechly had interfered with tight end Rob Gronkowski by grabbing him with both hands.
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Referee Clete Blakeman later said officials met and decided the pass was “underthrown” and it came down to a matter of “uncatchability.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, “There was no explanation given to me. Officials ran off the field. I didn’t see anything.”
An angry Brady sprinted over to two officials to seemingly argue as they walked off the field, though Brady later said he didn’t get a good look at the play.
“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.”
Brady conceded he was cautious on the pass.
“(Gronkowski) was kind of weaving in and out of there. I didn’t really want to throw it over his head and out of bounds, so I was a little indecisive,” Brady said. “It wasn’t a great throw. No excuses. Should have been a better throw.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers (7-3) celebrated.
Kuechly admitted he was nervous when he saw the penalty flag on the field.
“I was like, ‘Oh, jeez. I don’t know what this is going to be,’ ” he said. “My back was to Brady. I was just playing his eyes, playing his hands, waiting for his eyes to get big and his hands to go up and I was going to try to break it down. You know, I didn’t really see where the ball went.”
Brady was 29 of 40 for 296 yards and one touchdown.
Newton completed 19 of 28 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran seven times for 62 yards.
“It wasn’t our best defensive effort, but it was one of our better offensive efforts,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “It was good for our guys to win a game like this.”
The Panthers entered the fourth quarter with a 17-10 lead, but Stevan Ridley made up for an earlier fumble with a 1-yard touchdown run and the Patriots (7-3) took a 20-17 lead with 6:32 left on Stephen Gostkowski’s 26-yard field goal.
Carolina responded, as Newton hit Ginn on a hitch route. Ginn outraced Logan Ryan to the left pylon for his third touchdown this season.