The New England Patriots lost 24-20 Monday night against the Panthers in Carolina.

After a game like that, there’s a lot to digest and discuss. Here are five thoughts on the contest. –

No Explanation By Referees Inexcusable: Both teams battled hard, but the Pats ultimately fell short Monday night. Adding insult to injury, the game ended on a controversial play that will be heavily discussed over the next several days.

New England was on the Panthers 17 yard line and on the final play of a game, quarterback Tom Brady threw a pass into the end zone in the direction of tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski, who was clearly held — and essentially hugged — by Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, was then not able to come back to the pass, which was ultimately intercepted by Panthers safety Robert Lester.

The backfield referee threw a flag, but after the officials consulted, it was picked up and no explanation was given. Instead, the head referee Clete Blakeman announced the game was over.

When asked why the flag was picked up after the game, Blakeman said, “There were two officials that came in. One was the umpire and the other one was our side judge and there was a discussion at that point as to the, in essence, the catchability of the ball due to its location. 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 immediate at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone. 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.”

You can read the full pool report here on ESPNBoston.

Former Vice President of NFL officiating, Mike Pereira, tweeted this after the game concluded.

 

 

As stated in the quote above, referee Blakeman said, “the ball was intercepted at or about the same time the primary contact against the receiver occurred.” That is flat out incorrect. Kuechly clearly had both arms around Gronkowski well before the interception. Whether you believe the penalty should have been defensive pass interference, defensive holding, illegal contact, any one of those are justifiable with the type of contact on the final play.

Because a flag was thrown, an explanation needed to be made on the field.

At the very least, a five yard penalty for illegal contact should have been made and New England would then have a chance to win the game. Rules are in place for a reason and the players should have been able to settle the game on the field. Overall, a really bad look for the NFL and simply inexcusable.

Ridley Fumble Proved Costly: In the second quarter, the Patriots drove down the field 67 yards before running back Stevan Ridley fumbled the ball on Carolina’s 13 yard line. The turnover proved extremely costly late and would have totally changed how the game ended.

Hard to play the “what if” game, but even if the Patriots settle for three points on that drive, they would have been able to position themselves for a game winning field goal instead of playing for a touchdown.

The fumble was even more disappointing because of how good Ridley was running throughout the contest. Fortunately for the Patriots, Shane Vereen returned and made a splash right away.

If Ridley’s ball security issues continue to plague him this season, as they have over the course of his career, New England may look to a new primary ball carrier in the off-season.

Panthers Are For Real: Overall, the Monday night contest lived up to expectations. Carolina has stamped themselves as legit contenders and have a lot of reasons to feel confident moving forward.

Cam Newton is developing into one of the league’s best quarterbacks, the running game is strong, the defense is one of the best in the league and the team as a whole is sound fundamentally.

Head Coach Mike Rivera is doing a tremendous job and while the Panthers are by no means perfect, they are headed in the right direction. The last two weeks, beating the 49ers in San Francisco and the Pats Monday, are very impressive.

Defense Won’t Get Better: Call it unlucky, call it misfortune, whatever you deem it, the Patriots have the injury bug this season. If you look over the roster, especially defensively, it really is incredible how many players have been lost to injury.

No need to discuss Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly, those players aren’t coming back this season. Steve Gregory and Alfonso Dennard will return at some point, while other defensive backs Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib must continue to battle through their nagging injuries as the season progresses.

It’s a tough realization, but the Patriots defense won’t get better from what they showed earlier this season. It’s extremely disappointing after the unit finally performed well after the past few seasons of mediocre play. To their credit, they have done a great job with who is available and using the “next man up” mantra, but I think it’s finally caught up to them for now.

I’m not saying the defense can’t play well at times for the rest of the season, but it won’t be what it could have been or at the level it was to start the year.

Pats Have No Time To Feel Sorry For Themselves: For New England, it’s already a short week as they must turn around quickly to face the Denver Broncos in week 12. The Patriots can’t sit around and feel sorry for themselves after a disappointing loss.

Now holding a 7-3 record, the Pats hold a two game lead in the AFC East, but can’t lose position for the one or two seed in the conference. If the upcoming Broncos game wasn’t big enough before, there is a sense of urgency now tied to it.

The team can’t dwell on what could have been, but instead watch the film, make the adjustments and move on. The game did not end the way many fans would have liked, but it didn’t fall short in terms of entertainment. Now we’ll see how the team responds as they return home next week.

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