CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the Carolina Panthers celebrated their sixth straight win, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were left wondering why a penalty that could have saved them on the final play was wiped out.
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 officials threw a flag after it appeared linebacker Luke Kuechly had interfered with tight end Rob Gronkowski by grabbing him with both hands. The officials quickly gathered together and waved off the flag.
“There was no explanation given to me. Officials ran off the field. I didn’t see anything,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It was the last play of the game. There was a flag thrown and then the game was over.”
An angry Brady sprinted over to two officials to argue the call as they walked off the field.
“He 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 celebrated.
“We had good pressure and our safety Robert Lester was in good position to make the play,” coach Ron Rivera said.
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 in what will go down as one of his best games a pro. After the game, Rivera called it a “gutsy effort.”
“It wasn’t our best defensive effort, but it was one of our better offensive efforts,” Rivera said. “It was good for our guys to win a game like this.”
Carolina’s win came eight days after a 10-9 victory over reigning NFC champion San Francisco. 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 took a 20-17 lead with 6:32 left when Stephen Gostkowski slipped a 26-yard field goal just inside the left upright. Carolina came right back down the field and Newton hit the speedy Ginn on a hitch route. Ginn escaped Kyle Arrington along the left sideline and outraced Logan Ryan to the left pylon for his third touchdown of the season. Newton gave Carolina a 17-10 lead in the third quarter on an 81-yard touchdown drive that took more than 8 minutes off the clock and featured a scramble in which the third-year quarterback avoided four tacklers and turned a potential 20-yard sack into a 14-yard gain and a first down.
Newton completed all seven passes on the drive for 77 yards finding Greg Olsen at the right pylon with 2:10 left for his second touchdown pass, putting the Panthers back in front.
“Cam did the things he needed to do to put us in position to win the football game,” Rivera said. “It has a lot to do with his maturity that we have talked about.”