Tonight, in what felt like a playoff atmosphere in Charlotte, the Patriots and Panthers faced off in one of the best games of the NFL season. It was a back-and-forth battle that had a bit of everything — early intensity, star performances, mind-boggling athleticism, great defense, and a final play that drove America’s most famous Uggs spokesmodel into a profane rage.
With just minutes remaining in the game, Panthers QB Cam Newton engineered a touchdown drive to take a 24-20 lead over Brady and Patriots.
Newton’s prime-time performance would have been the game’s main storyline had a few clutch plays by Brady and New England’s receivers not subsequently gotten the Patriots into position to take a shot at the end zone with just seconds left on the clock. That’s when this happened:
That’s Rob Gronkowski of the Pats getting wrapped up by Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechley as Brady’s throw is intercepted. The referee watching the play from just feet away threw a flag, seeming to indicate a pass interference penalty which would have resulted in an untimed final down for the Patriots on the 1-yard line.
But then, without explanation, head ref Clete Blakeman announced that there had in fact been no foul on the play. Game over.
The refs got an earful from Mr. Gisele.
Audio slightly NSFW.
11-year veteran referee and NBC Sunday Night Football correspondent Jim Daopoulos immediately voiced disagreement with the decision to wave off the flag. Daopouos was retweeted by widely-followed NBC and Sports Illustrated football guru Peter King.
Former NFL VP of officials Mike Pereira, Fox’s all-purpose refereeing expert, also weighed in to criticize the game crew.
In other words: here we go again.