Refs: Underthrow wiped out penalty

Updated: November 19, 2013, 2:18 PM ET
By Field Yates | ESPNBoston.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For the second time this season, the New England Patriots lost a game in which a late controversial call -- or non-call in this case -- by an official made headlines.

A throw from Tom Brady to tight end Rob Gronkowski was intercepted as time expired, although Gronkowski appeared to be held by linebacker Luke Kuechly, sealing the Carolina Panthers' 24-20 victory Monday night.

A flag was thrown, but after conferring with other officials, referee Clete Blakeman announced there was no penalty on the play.

Gronkowski was asked if he felt he was held on the play, and he responded, "I've gotta rewatch, but if you saw that, then I would say yeah."

Following the game, Blakeman defended his crew's decision, saying the original call was pass interference but that Gronkowski's distance from the ball rendered the pass uncatchable.

"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 [immediately] at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone," he said. "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."

"It just wasn't completed, and there was no flag," Gronkowski said of the play. "There was a flag, but it got called back. I don't even know why they threw it, and there's just no excuse. I'm not trying to be here to make excuses; [the Panthers are] a good football team, they scored more points than us and they beat us straight up."

"It is how it is now, and they took the call back and [we] can't do anything about it. And that's not when the game is [won] and [lost]. They're a very good team; they played tough all four quarters."

Asked whether he said anything to the refs following the play, Gronkowski said: "When they threw the flag, that's what I thought it was going to be. And it was waved off, so I can't do anything about it."

Kuechly said his focus was on Gronkowski and that he didn't see Brady release the ball.

"Honestly, I didn't see the throw," Kuechly said. "I didn't see where the ball ended up. I just saw his eyes get big and his hands go up. When that happens, the ball is going to him. I didn't see what happened after the play. I just knew there was a flag down, a bunch of people around the refs. They waved it off and the crowd cheered."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick indicated in his postgame remarks that he did not receive an explanation from officials, saying, "I saw what you saw."

Belichick declined to further comment on the controversial play during his conference call Tuesday morning.

"If you have any questions on that, you can talk to the league office," Belichick said.

"Whatever the officials think is the only thing that matters. They're the ones that make the calls. It's their explanation and their judgment that we all have to abide by."

Brady had a heated exchanged with officials as he left the field but said postgame he didn't get any explanation either.

"[The ref] didn't say anything," Brady said. "I didn't really see the play, either, so I don't know whether it was a good call or a bad call."

Ultimately, Brady lamented that the fate of the Pats (7-3) came down to the final play.

"I wish it wouldn't come down to that," Brady said. "I think there are plenty of plays we could have made. But it did, and they are going to make a call or they are not going to make a call. ... We can play better than that."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday that he is fine with the way the game ended.

"We've been on the other end of those calls too, as well," Rivera said. "As far as I'm concerned, that was the decision -- the decision we live with. No matter how much people want to talk about it and rehash, rehash, it's not going to change."

Rivera acknowledged, however, that he would have felt differently if the Panthers (7-3) were on the other end of a similarly controversial call.

"Without a doubt -- it's human nature," he said. "You want the good things, the right things, things that you believe are correct."

Information from ESPN.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and ESPN.com Panthers reporter David Newton contributed to this report.

Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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