Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Cam Newton threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds remaining and the red-hot Carolina Panthers beat the visiting New England Patriots 24-20 on Monday night.
The game ended on an officiating controversy when a flag was thrown in the end zone on the final play, indicating a possible pass interference/holding penalty on Carolina, but was picked up.
The Panthers (7-3), who ran their winning streak to six games, began the winning drive at their own 17-yard line with six-plus minutes to play in regulation. Newton twice converted third downs with legs, one on a 15-yard scramble and the other a designed 3-yard run to the Carolina 47.
A third-down holding penalty on defensive back Devin McCourty moved the chains again, giving Carolina a first down at the New England 31. Newton then hit Ginn on a short toss and the wide receiver sprinted to the front left pylon after cornerback Kyle Arrington missed the tackle.
The Patriots, with all three timeouts in hand, marched to the Carolina 18, where, on the game's final play, Tom Brady threw a pass that safety Robert Lester picked off in the end zone.
Brady was looking for Rob Gronkowski but the tight end was bear-hugged by linebacker Luke Kuechly behind Lester.
The official behind the play threw a flag in the end zone, but referee Clete Blakeman declared there was no foul.
Brady followed Blakeman off the field and the TV broadcast picked up audio of the quarterback using an expletive to complain about the call.
"I wish it wouldn't have come down to that," Brady said. "I mean I think they were plenty of plays we could have made, but it did and they're going to make a call or they're not going to make the call. We can play better than that."
Newton finished 209 yards while completing 19-of-28 attempts. He added 62 yards rushing, including 14 on a third-quarter, highlight-reel scramble that saw him eluded six defenders.
Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen also caught touchdown passes from Newton.
"It wasn't one of our better defensive efforts, but it most certainly was one of our better offensive efforts," said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.
The Panthers have won six straight for the first time since Oct. 3-Nov. 13, 2005 and stayed within a game of first-place New Orleans in the NFC South.
Brady completed 29-of-40 passes for 296 yards with one touchdown.
Running back Shane Vereen, activated from short-term injured reserve prior to the game, had 65 yards on eight receptions for the AFC East-leading Patriots (7-3). Vereen was placed on IR with a designation to return after suffering a broken wrist in the team's season-opener at Buffalo.
The Panthers' second possession of the game featured several skirmishes between wideout Steve Smith and cornerback Aqib Talib, who had missed New England's three previous games with a hip injury that cropped up again and forced him to sit out Carolina's final drive.
Smith caught a 42-yard pass and after another short reception, Talib grabbed Smith's ankle and refused to let go. Smith responded by knocking off Talib's helmet, but only Talib received a 15-yard penalty.
The scuffle-filled drive ended with Newton hitting LaFell on a 9-yard touchdown
New England looked to counter on its next series, but running back Stevan Ridley was stripped by Kawann Short and defensive lineman Mario Addison recovered the ball at the Carolina 13.
Graham Gano then kicked a 43-yard field goal to put the Panthers up 10-0 after Talib was flagged for holding Smith on third down earlier on the drive.
Stephen Gostkowski drilled a 42-yard kick into a stiff breeze with 1:09 before halftime for New England.
The Patriots drove right down the field to begin the third quarter and Gronkowski tied the game with 9-yard touchdown reception.
Newton's dazzling display of athleticism then set up his 15-yard scoring strike to Olsen.
Brady led the Patriots on a 9-play, 80-yard drive to once again tie the game. He hit wideout Kenbrell Thompkins for 37 yards to the 1 and Ridley, who was benched for a period of time following his third lost fumble this season, ran the ball in on the next play with 12:33 left in the fourth quarter.
After the Panthers' first three-and-out since the game's opening drive, Gostkowski kicked a 26-yard field goal to give New England a 20-17 lead with 6:32 remaining.
The Patriots' streak of 36 straight games with a takeaway was snapped ... New England (24-2) lost for just the second time in the second half of the regular season since 2010 ... Brady became the sixth NFL quarterback to reach 4,000 career completions ... Gronkowski now has 40 touchdown receptions from Brady, the most by anyone. He broke a tie with Randy Moss.