BOSTON (CBS) – No penalty, no explanation.
That’s what the Patriots are smarting over after Monday night’s 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
The Patriots had plenty of missed opportunities in the loss, just their third of the season, but one final opportunity was taken away from them when a flag was thrown on the final play of the game, but no penalty called.
With the Patriots threatening with just four seconds remaining in the game, quarterback Tom Brady threw over the middle in the end zone looking for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk was covered, though Luke Kuechly’s coverage was more like a bear hug.
Back judge Terrence Miles threw a flag, which was expected to be for either a hold or pass interference. That would have given the Patriots one last opportunity to punch in the go-ahead score.
But the flag was picked up by head referee Clete Blakeman and no penalty was called. Game over.
As the officials left the field, an animated Brady pleaded for an explanation. None was given to him.
Head coach Bill Belichick didn’t receive one either.
“There was no explanation given to me,” Belichick said at the podium after the game. “Officials ran off the field.”
“I don’t know what happened. There was a flag thrown, and then the game was over,” he said of the final play. “I saw what you saw.”
Retired official Gerry Austin explained on the ESPN broadcast that Brady’s pass was deemed uncatchable, which is why there was no penalty called despite the “coverage” on Gronkowski. That is exactly what Blakeman told reporters after the game, confident his crew got it right.
“There were two officials that came in; one was the umpire and the other one was our side judge and there was a discussion at that point as to the, in essence, the catchability of the ball due to its location,” explained Blakeman. “It was determined at that point in time that when the primary contact occurred on the tight end that the ball, in essence, was coming in underthrown and in essence it was immediate at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone. So there was a determination that, in essence, uncatchability, that the ball was intercepted at or about the same time the primary contact against the receiver occurred.”
“You never like to end the game with some controversy like that on a call, but I’m pleased that our officiating crew got together and communicated and discussed it and, ultimately, I believe we got it right,” he said.
It’s hard to deem whether the ball would have been catchable for Gronkowski, but the tight end said after the game he thought he would have been able to make a play on it. He was even more surprised when he learned no penalty would be called on the play.
“I’d have to rewatch it, but I’d have to say yes [it was catchable],” he said.
“I don’t even know why they threw it,” he said of the flag, before quickly giving credit to Carolina. “There’s no excuse – I’m not trying to make excuses. They’re a good football team and they made more plays than us.”
Brady admitted after the game his throw wasn’t great, and it shouldn’t have come down to that one play in the end.
“He was kind of weaving in and out of there, and I didn’t want to throw it over his head and out of bounds,” he said of Gronkowski. “It wasn’t a great throw. No excuses, I should have made a better throw.”
“I wish it wouldn’t come down to that,” said Brady. “There were plenty of together plays we could have made. They’re going to make the calls, or not make the calls, but we can play better than that.”
This is the second time this season the Patriots have lost on a controversial ending involving officials. In Week 7, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Chris Jones for pushing a teammate into a pile gave the New York Jets a second chance to game-winning field goal in overtime. Instead of a missed field goal and the Patriots taking over with good field position, the Jets were given 15 yards and eventually hit a chip shot for a 30-27 win.
The Patriots still would have had to find the end zone on Monday night, and there were plenty of missed chances in the first 59 minutes of the game that would have changed the outcome. But the frustration with the officials was there, and it showed as Belichick answered questions at the podium. He was asked why he didn’t receive an explanation, and brought up his encounter with a replacement referee following a Week 3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season.
“We’ve been down that road before,” said Belichick. “Didn’t get [an explanation] tonight, didn’t get one in the Baltimore game. I guess that’s the way they do it.”
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Last season, it was a pass interference call on safety Devin McCourty that set up a game-winning field goal for the Ravens. Belichick was given no explanation following the game, and was fined $50,000 for making contact with an official.
This time around, Belichick didn’t even try to get an explanation from the officials as he left the field.
It was another frustrating end to a game they could have won, but as they did after Week 7, the Patriots are not going to dwell on something they cannot control. Instead they’ll focus on the many mistakes they made, and look to make improvements as they now prepare for the 9-1 Denver Broncos next Sunday.
“We don’t make any excuses,” said Brady. “We had plenty of chances and we didn’t play our best. They played better than we did and made a few more plays. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
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