Patriots Had Opportunities to Beat Panthers Before Officials Incorrectly Picked Up Pass Interference Flag

Robert LesterThe NFL needs to put the officials chosen to call the Patriots-Panthers game on blast.

All of them: Clete Blakeman, Garth DeFelice, Tony Veteri, Ron Marinucci, Greg Meyer, David Meslow and Terrence Miles.

Miles made the right call by throwing a flag on Luke Kuechly for pass interference. Then the officials erroneously picked it up — for no reason. Rob Gronkowski was forcibly hugged by Kuechly just as he had spotted the ball and started to come back up field for it.

Would the ball still have been picked off if Gronkowski wasn’t interfered with? Yeah, probably. But do we know that? By no means. It was a catchable ball. And Gronkowski was interfered with — by definition.

The NFL needs to put those officials on blast because there can’t be precedent for that type of interference. An uncatchable ball should be a clearly uncatchable ball. There should be no shadow of a doubt.

Blakeman came out and said the officials made the right call. They probably want that to be end of story, but it shouldn’t be. The NFL has to come down on those officials.

With that out of the way, the Patriots never should have allowed the game to come down to that final play with just three seconds left. And even on that play, Brady got flustered by pressure (allowed by the offensive line) and didn’t make a good throw. He underthrew Gronkowski, allowing Robert Lester to step in front of the tight end for the interception.

Stevan Ridley‘s fumble didn’t help matters. Neither did Kyle Arrington‘s missed tackle on the Ted Ginn touchdown. Aqib Talib had a poor game coming off his hip injury. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones allowed Cam Newton to scramble for a 14-yard first down. The Patriots chose to pass on third-and-1 in the red zone rather than running for it.

It was a team loss. If these exist, though, it was an impressive loss.

The Patriots’ run defense looked much better, despite the long runs they allowed to Newton. And while it wasn’t the best performance from the secondary, they were missing Alfonzo Dennard and Steve Gregory, two starters. Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib also missed time during the game with injuries.

Most importantly, Brady had another good game. The signal caller started the year off shaky. But now two weeks in a row he’s looked like his old self. It’s amazing what getting back Gronkowski, Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola will do for a quarterback.

While Patriots fans have every reason to moan and complain about the officials picking up the flag at the end of the game, that’s not what caused New England to lose. It was just one play out of 121 in the game. It definitely didn’t go the Patriots’ way, but it never had to come down to that if Brady didn’t have eight incompletions on that drive. Or if Devin McCourty hadn’t held Greg Olsen (despite Olsen’s acting job and holding in his own right, it was still a hold). Or if Logan Mankins and Aqib Talib hadn’t been flagged for 15-yard penalties.

Teams lose, though. And the Patriots  lost to the better team on Monday night. They’ll have a shot to redeem themselves against the Broncos inside the more-friendly confines of Gillette Stadium.

It tough when a game comes down to an excusable play. But New England is still destined for an AFC East championship and a likely No. 2 seed in its conference. And the team will take comfort in knowing they stepped up against a tough NFC foe, even if they didn’t come away with the win.

After all, there were many fixable plays that didn’t have to do with a picked-up flag.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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