I'm happy to say that today represents the last of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2013 that all of us would just as soon rather forget. And because of that, I had to make it a doozy. Today's moment represents the angriest I've been as a Patriots fan in a very long time, and writing this article dredged up all those old feelings all over again. I know that ultimately it probably didn't matter, and you can never really blame the whole on one single part, but whenever I look back on how 2013 could possibly have shaken out for the Patriots, I always think about this moment.
The list so far:
19. and help the Patriots lock up a sloppy home opener against the .
18. and depart for Denver and jail, respectively.
17. makes a huge one-handed TD grab just before halftime against the .
16. The Patriots lose in OT to the Jets, courtesy of an interesting new rule
15. bowls over the entire defensive line for a rushing touchdown.
14. leads a 4th quarter comeback drive against the to win the 2013 season opener.
13. emerges as a receiving threat with a two touchdown day against the .
Time to get this over with.
12. A highly questionable non-PI call costs the Patriots a Monday Night Football game against the Carolina Panthers.
You could argue that the Carolina Panthers were one of the surprise teams of 2013; after a 7-9 finish in 2012, nobody really saw them as favorites in a division that featured both the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, both of which were preseason Super Bowl picks for several experts. So when they hosted the 7-2 Patriots sitting pretty at 6-3, winners of five straight and in excellent position to take control of the NFC South, there were more than a few raised eyebrows; were these the Panthers who lost to the Bills and Cardinals, or were they the Panthers who had just beaten the 49ers the week before? A Monday Night showdown against a New England team that had just come off of a bye seemed like a perfect way to see whether or not Carolina was legit.
For the most part, this game was a defensive battle. The Panthers D definitely lived up to the hype, limiting the Patriots to just a field goal in the first half and two touchdowns all game - this coming off both a bye and a 55 point outing against the Steelers in Week 9. New England, for its part, limited Cam Newton and made Carolina fight for every yard it gained. However, just as New England was starting to find its groove offensively in the fourth quarter, Newton suddenly realized that Kyle Arrington was not in the slot, but bumbling around on the outside, which made for an easy 25 yard TD reception to Ted Ginn to give the Panthers a 24-20 lead with less than a minute to play.
One minute, however, is more than enough time for Tom Brady.
Starting at his own 20, Brady hit Gronk for 23 yards on 4th and 10 to move the ball to the 43. He was then able to get it to Danny Amendola for 11 yards to move into Panther territory, and a pass interference call on Aaron Dobson gave the Pats another 10 yards. Quick outs to Shane Vereen and Dobson again put the ball on the Carolina 18 with three seconds left. There was time for one more play.
Brady lined up in shotgun with Gronk in the slot to his right, with Edelman and Amendola out wide next to him. Dobson was alone on the left side with Vereen in the backfield . At the snap, Gronk ran up the seam, faked to the outside, and then made a cut back towards the middle, where he was absolutely mauled by Luke Kuechly and unable to complete his turn. Defensive back Robert Lester easily stepped into the spot where Gronk was supposed to end up for what seemed to be the game-sealing interception. However, the end zone judge, who was standing about five feet away from Gronk when he got held, reached into his pocket and threw the flag: defensive pass interference. There was no time on the clock, but a game cannot end on a defensive penalty, so it was about to be first and goal on the one. The game was going to come down to one play.
Not so fast.
Head referee Cletel Blakeman, who was standing behind Tommy B at the 25 yard line and a good 35 yards away from the play, came sprinting towards the end zone to tell his back judge to pick up the flag. The pass, according to Blakeman, was uncatchable, and you can't call PI on an uncatchable pass. Furthermore, any contact between Gronk and Keuchly happened during the process of the interception. Game over. An irate Tom Brady screamed at Blakeman all the way into the locker room, and the Panthers got the win.
Needless to say, the controversial play was all over the internet and sports shows the next day. The NFL, of course, fully supported its crew at the time, and emphasized the fact that calls must be made in the moment without the benefit of instant replay. And while there were a few exceptions, almost all analysts agreed that Gronk was in fact interfered with, that he would have been in position to make the catch had he not been held up, and to reverse that call was incorrect. A few days later, ESPN Sports Science broke down precisely, using physics and kinesiology, exactly how Gronk's trajectory, momentum, and wingspan would have put him EXACTLY where Brady put the ball had Kuekley not decided to host his own personal grope session in the end zone. The NFL, perhaps realizing that they made a boo-boo, decided to change their stance on the call; the pass was in fact catchable, but it was tipped at the line, and there is no DPI on a tipped pass. Replays from every possible angle could not have been clearer that the only two people to touch the ball on that play were Brady and Lester and nowhere at any point does any other defender come close, but that was the stance. Pats lost, time to move on.
The way I see it (and the way that most people see it), that final play should have ended in one of three ways:
1. No flag thrown. Yeah, it was probably Pass Interference, but it's also the last play of the game, and you don't want the refs to decide the outcome. Allow the contact, let them play, and see what happens. You'll get some grumbling from Patriots fans, but bad calls/non-calls are just part of the game. You just have to live with it.
2. Flag thrown. Pass Interference, first and goal at the one. Patriots punch it in to win the game.
3. Flag thrown. Pass interference, first and goal at the one. Panthers get the stop, Panthers win the game.
All three of those outcomes are outcomes I could have lived with. I mean sure, option two sure does look sweet and juicy, but if any one of the above happened, this game probably wouldn't be on this list right now. I would have grumbled as loudly as anybody about the non-call, but every team has been on the both the good and bad end of a missed penalty, so there isn't all that much you can do. But to have it end the way it did, with the correct call made and then the flag to have been picked up for incorrect reasons and then to have the league cover up their mistake with another mistake is enough to get me angry even now, all these months out. The Panthers game marks the second of New England's four losses last year that came as the result of a bogus flag, and one game was all that separated them from having home field advantage throughout the playoffs. And while I won't go so far as to say the entire season came down to this play (if you make enough plays throughout the game you don't need to launch a comeback), I could certainly make a case for it.
To watch the play, click here.
To see the scientific breakdown of exactly why Gronk would have absolutely been where he needed to be, click here.
If having to relive this infuriating moment has made you irate, click here.