New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Monday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers came down to a handful of plays, but would not elaborate on the controversial game-ending play in the end zone.
“It was a highly competitive game. It was a good football game,” Belichick said Tuesday morning via conference call. “I’m proud of the way our team fought from the beginning to the end. Came down to a handful of plays that, you know, I’d say, that ultimately probably decided the game. They just had a few more of them than we did.
“…I don’t really have any comment to add about the officiating or any of those calls. If you have any questions on that, you can talk to the league office and the officiating department, let them give their explanation on them. It’s not really our job to call the game, it’s to play it and coach it. Whatever calls they make are the ones that we live with.”
In the 24-20 loss at Carolina, tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebacker Luke Kuechly were tangled up in the end zone. A flag was thrown, but referees conferred to determine the underthrow — which led to a Robert Lester interception six yards in front of Gronkowski in the end zone — eliminated the potential for a pass interference penalty.
“So 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 at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone,” referee Clete Blakeman said after the game. “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.”
Belichick said after the game that “I saw what you saw.”
Kuechly said he didn’t see the pass. Quarterback Tom Brady rushed to give an earful to officials but then said following the game that “I didn’t really see the play, either, so I don’t know whether it was a good call or a bad call.”
Belichick said poor execution in the red zone was the real issue Monday.
New England didn’t get six points on its second-to-last drive despite having a third-and-1 at the Carolina 8, settling for a 26-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal to take a 20-17 lead with 6:32 left in the game.
“The red area was a big difference in the game from a scoring standpoint,” Belichik said Tuesday. “We just need to do a better job with the opportunities that we have and that’s what we’re going to keep working to do.”
On Monday night, Cam Newton outdueled Tom Brady in the controversial final minutes as the Panthers won their sixth straight.
With his team trailing 20-17 late in the fourth quarter, Newton drove his team 83 yards and slung a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. for the decisive blow in a back-and-forth showdown.
The score came with just 1:09 remaining, which was enough for Brady to lead a drive that ended at Carolina’s 18 yard-line. His final pass was intercepted in the end zone by Robert Lester.
Gronkowski appeared to be grabbed by a defender on the last play.
“When they threw the flag, that’s what I thought it was going to be (interference),” Gronkowski told reporters. “They took the call back. It’s not where the game was won or lost.”
In a marquee matchup between top teams, Newton finished with 209 yards passing and three scores, along with 62 yards rushing as the red-hot Panthers announced themselves as the real contenders.
Carolina (7-3), which has been guided by their stout defense, stayed one game behind first-place New Orleans in the NFC South division.
The Panthers had their hands full with New England (7-3) after taking an early 10-0 lead but being constantly chased down.
Brady threw a nine-yard pass to Gronkowski in the third quarter to tie the game 10-10, then responded to a Carolina TD with another drive that saw Stevan Ridley run in a score and knot it 17-17 early in the fourth.
Stephen Gostkowski’s 26-yard field goal put visiting New England ahead 20-17 with 6:36 but the Panthers had the last laugh.
“I don’t have any more nails I was biting them all night,” Newton said of the finish.
“We knew we were going to have this kind of game. The defense stood up at the end.”
Brady completed 29 of 40 passes for 296 yards in the defeat.
New England have a two-game lead atop the AFC East.
The Patriots have waded through injuries and some inexperience this year in finding ways to win.