The New England Patriots believed they were going to have one more play on Monday Night Football to try and come back to beat the Carolina Panthers. Luke Kuechly clearly made contact with Rob Gronkowski on a pass to the end-zone and, with laundry on the turf, Tom Brady seemed like he was about to get another chance.
Then the referees picked up the flag, announced that there was no foul, and effectively handed the Patriots their third loss of the 2013 NFL season.
On the initial play with the Panthers defensive back coming up with the ball and seeing Gronkowski basically being in a sumo wrestling match in the back of the end-zone, I actually though that a no-call was the right way to go. I thought that there was definitely contact between Kuechly and Gronkowski, but I also thought that the throw was intercepted very low to the ground and that Gronk would have had no chance of catching that pass regardless of any contact.
After watching the replay a good two-dozen times that ESPN showed it after the game, though, it’s clear that my eyes were lying to me on this one on the first look and that flag should not have been picked up.
For starters, that ball was going to land about a foot or two in front of Gronkowski in the position that he was after being pushed by Kuechly. For a guy with the athletic-freak-ness of Gronk, that’s a completely catchable ball. If you’ve watched the replay and aren’t delusional, I don’t think there’s any way that you can deny that. Secondly, the contact from Kuechly comes extremely early in that play and he kind of hugs him in coverage. I think it’s possible that you could flag for holding if you don’t think there’s a pass interference case to be made (which there is, but let’s just say there isn’t).
You can’t take away from the effort that Cam Newton and the Panthers put forth on Monday night. They came out and rose to the occasion on an enormous stage and made big plays when it mattered. You also can’t know for sure if the Pats would have scored had they gotten one more play. However, you can’t let a game on this big of a stage be ended with questions like “what if?” The only certainties I can come up with now is that Carolina is for real and that they should have had to defend one more pass from Brady.