CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Tom Brady marched his team down the field in the final seconds for a chance at another clutch scoring drive from the three-time Super Bowl champion. Instead, the game ended with an interception, a waved-off penalty and plenty of frustration for the New England Patriots.
Brady was picked off while looking for Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on the last play of a 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Monday night, then argued with officials as he headed to the tunnel for reversing themselves by picking up a flag for pass interference.
The Patriots moved to the Carolina 18-yard line with 3 seconds left, setting up Brady's final throw. Replays showed Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly wrapping Gronkowski in a bear hug toward the back of the end zone while safety Robert Lester intercepted the underthrown ball as time expired. Back judge Terrence Miles threw a flag, but the officials gathered and waved it off.
"When I saw the flag, that's what I thought it was going to be," Gronkowski said. "It was waved off, so I can't do anything about it. When you're live in the action, you don't even feel anything. You just react."
Brady's reaction was to angrily make his case to officials. Afterward, he said he didn't get an explanation and couldn't see what happened well enough to know if it was a good call.
"(Gronkowski) was kind of weaving in and out of there and I just didn't really want to throw it over his head and out of bounds," Brady said. "So I was a little indecisive. It wasn't a great throw. No excuses. It should've been a better throw."
Referee Clete Blakeman said after the game that 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.
"You never like to end the game like that on a call but I'm pleased that our officiating crew got together and communicated and discussed it and ultimately we believe we got it right," Blakeman said.
The final drive followed Cam Newton's 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds left for the go-ahead score that sent Carolina (7-3) to its sixth straight victory.
Stephen Gostkowski's 26-yard field goal put the Patriots (7-3) up 20-17 before Newton drove Carolina 83 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown. The speedy Ginn escaped Kyle Arrington along the left sideline and outraced Logan Ryan to the left pylon for his third TD of the season.
After the final no call, Panthers players spilled onto the field from the sideline to celebrate in front of a roaring home crowd.
"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."
Brady finished 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, Carolina coach Ron 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."
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 the lead with 6:32 left in the game when Gostkowski slipped a short field goal just inside the left upright.
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 to put 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."
NOTES: The Panthers have outscored their opponents 45-8 in the first quarter. ... The Panthers held a moment of silence before the game for former team President Mike McCormack, who died last week. ... Brady fell to 13-5 on Monday night. ... Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui injured his knee in the first half and didn't return. ... The Panthers got only 41 yards rushing on 16 carries from their three running backs. ... Shane Vereen had 65 yards on eight receptions in his first game since returning from a broken left wrist in the season opener.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org