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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Patriots Lose In Unforgettable Fashion Once Again, What's With This Season?

I can deal with a Patriots loss just fine but to see them lose for the second time this season on a dubious play is tough to swallow, again. Carolina (7-3 overall, 4-1 home) held on for a 24-20 win over New England (7-3, 2-3 away) tonight at Bank of America Stadium on Monday Night Football. Ted Ginn Jr. of all people had the winning score: a 25-yard touchdown catch and run that came with 59 seconds left in regulation.

After moving the ball down the field, on the final snap of the game Tom Brady (29 of 40, 296 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) threw the ball into the end zone intended for Rob Gronkowski (5 catches, 59 yards, 1 TD). Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly (12 tackles, 8 solo) wrapped Gronk in a bear hug, making sure he had absolutely no chance to catch the pass. While this was happening, rookie safety Robert Lester picked it off to end it.

The questionable part of the play is that the refs actually threw a flag at first but then retracted it thus the game ended. Some would say the ball was uncatchable but I can only counter with look at what all the ex-players and officials (save for Grandpa Gerry Austin) concluded: it should have been a penalty for defensive holding.

The worst part is that one stupid play will dominate the airwaves for a few days. I guess we need to be happy that there is one less day to relive it before New England's next game-Sunday night (8:30, NBC) vs. Denver (9-1).

I also have to give the Panthers credit, I thought they might be frauds that took advantage of an easy schedule. Cam Newton (19 of 28 for 209 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs; 62 yards rushing) made a bunch of big plays and their defense is formidable. Carolina head coach Ron Rivera seems too conservative which could come to bite them (no pun intended) in the playoffs and yes I think the Panthers will make the playoffs in the superior NFC.

Brandon LaFell (7 catches, 59 yards) started the party with a nine-yard touchdown catch late in the first quarter. This came after plenty of fighting between Aqib Talib and Steve Smith (4 catches, 62 yards) that resulted in Talib getting a penalty and a seat on the bench (for a while).

Graham Gano's 43-yard field goal made it 10-0 before the Patriots finally woke up with a 42-yard-field goal by Stephen Gostkowski late in the first half. New England's offense started to find a rhythm in the third quarter. Brady tied it on a 9-yard pass to Gronk who broke the tackle of three Panthers.

Newton responded with his best throw of the night: a 15-yard touchdown to Greg Olsen in the corner of the end zone where only he could get it. The Pats appeared ready to get an impressive road win as Stevan Ridley (48 yards rushing) tied it with a 1-yard touchdown run. LeGarrette Blount led the Patriots with 49 yards rushing while Shane Vereen had a great return to action with a team-high eight catches for 65 yards. Ridley had another fumble, this time in the red zone which led to a brief benching of his own. Will it ever end with this guy?

An incomplete pass on 3rd-and-1 proved to be costly for the Pats when they settled for a 26-yard field goal by Gostkowski that temporarily gave them a 20-17 lead. Carolina went down the field, gaining yards and burning clock before Newton connected with Ginn Jr. for his only catch of the night. The former first round bust of the Dolphins was able to make Kyle Arrington miss a tackle before he turned on the Jets.

There is no rest for the weary as the Patriots host the Broncos in another highly-anticipated game. Who knows how things will shake out in January but it could very likely be an AFC Championship Game preview. New England is 5-0 at home this season but it'll be tough to beat Denver with such a depleted defense. Losing back-to-back games against Super Bowl contenders would be harsh for the Pats' playoff hopes.

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