There was a great game played in the 59 minutes and 57 seconds before a picked-up flag ruined it all.
No one will remember the first 59 minutes and 57 seconds, though. But this is a game that should be recalled. It may have been the best the NFL has seen this season.
The Patriots and Panthers matched up incredibly well, and there was a reason it came down to the final play. Cam Newton played the game of his life, and Tom Brady picked up where he left off in Week 11 against a very good Panthers defense.
Check out the stars of the game for the Patriots below.
Shane Vereen: It was obvious just how much Brady missed his third-down option as soon as Vereen stepped on the field. Of Vereen’s nine touches, seven went for first downs. And three of those were on third down.
Vereen did a nice job getting open while split out wide and out of the backfield. He got just one carry, which made sense coming off an injury. It’s easier to get mixed back in as a receiver.
Rob Ninkovich: Ninkovich missed a key tackle on Newton, but for the most part, he did a great job setting the edge against the traditional run and read-option. Ninkovich also recorded two sacks, bringing him up to five on the season.
Ninkovich is as consistently solid of a player as the Patriots have. He’s been moved around a lot through his career, and he’s always been good, whether he’s playing strong-side linebacker, outside linebacker or defensive end.
Tom Brady: Brady had 11 incompletions, and eight of those came on the final drive. Before that last drive, Brady was magnificent. He’s strung together two good games in a row now, and it looked like he really enjoyed having Vereen back.
This was a rough loss, given the circumstances of the last play, but there are still a lot of positives to take away. And Brady’s play was one of them.
Brandon Spikes: The Panthers have one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL, and they were limited to 103 yards. Spikes played a big role in stopping Carolina’s run game.
Mike Tolbert, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart ran for just 41 yards on 16 carries. Spikes jammed the middle well and blew up the Panthers’ lead blocker on a few plays. He’s an explosive force who has a tendency to overpursue at times, but in this game, he was solid.
LeGarrette Blount: After Ridley got placed on the bench following his third fumble of the season, Blount got extended carries. He ran very well, winding up with 49 yards on 10 carries.
It may have been Blount’s best, most consistent performance of the season. He didn’t break any big plays, but he proved he can be a good runner without those highlight plays.