One ridiculous game-determining call against the Patriots this season was not enough. No, the refs had to make it two by failing to call blatant pass interference against Rob Gronkowski on the game's final play. Make no bones about it, regardless of the shill for the NFL that ESPN tried to trot out after the game, that hold on Rob Gronkowski was as blatant as pass interference comes. For anyone who wants to say that the ball was uncatchable, take a second look and realize that the Carolina defender started interfering with Gronkowski about two feet away from where the ball eventually ended up. Just because the defender pulled him four yards away from the ball does not negate the penalty.
Bad calls happen. I get it. But this is now twice this season where the referees have made a conscious decision to screw the Patriots. I don't want to dive back into the debacle of a call a few weeks ago in New Jersey, but that play was clearly a case where the referee had every reason to just keep the flag in his pocket and deliberately chose to insert themselves into the outcome of the game. Then tonight, we have a flag on the ground to call a penalty on clear interference, and the refs just magically decide to pick it up and walk off the field without explanation.
Anybody who wants to claim that the NFL has the fix in FOR the Patriots after the Tuck Rule, please see Exhibit A and Exhibit B from this season. Here's Exhibit C from last season. Throw in the bogus 1st round pick that got taken away from them for "spygate" and you have some clear evidence that Roger Goodell is none other than Vincent K. McMahon on a mission to destroy the Patriots since taking office.
Do I really believe that? No. But, haters, please stop with the constant barrage that the Patriots get "lucky" and are bailed out by the referees. Clearly, after tonight, that argument holds no water.
Tom Brady (QB) - You really couldn't have asked more from Tom Brady tonight. His offensive line failed him (bad protection on the first drive by Solder, and a horrible drive-killing penalty on Mankins at the end of the first half), his top running back failed him (fumble at the goal line), his defense failed him (too many 3rd down conversions by Carolina that ended with scoring), and the zebras ultimately failed him as well. When everyone was out to make sure that he would have an awful night, he only managed to lead his team down the field on six of his seven drives with a chance for another legendary come back.
Shane Vereen (RB) - While he clearly had some rust to shake off, Vereen showed just how important he is to this offense, with some clutch drive-maintaining plays on 3rd down.
Aqib Talib (CB) - In his first game back in almost a month, I wasn't expecting Talib to dominate. However, I also wasn't expecting him to act like a total chump eitiher. That was definitely some of the most bush-league after-the-play antics that I've seen from this team in, well, probably ever.
Stevan Ridley (RB) - His fumble (again) near the goal line was supremely costly tonight.
Kyle Arrington (CB) - Totally blew his coverage on the game-winning touchdown.
Nate Solder (LT) - His horrible job of picking up the blitz killed the first drive and stopped the Patriots from gaining early momentum.
Logan Mankins (LG) - Picked up a needless personal foul on the the final drive of the 1st half that cost the Patriots a shot at a much-needed touchdown.
Defense - As a whole, they allowed Cam Newton to keep multipe drives alive when he was all but sacked. Each of those failures turned a punt into a score for the Panthers. Easier said that done, I know, but this game is a whole lot different if they don't let him scramble like that. Just one stop would have made the difference.
Bill Belichick/Josh McDaniels - I'm not sure who was responsible for the passing play on 3rd and 1 when the game was tied at 17-17, but that was a horrible decision. A touchdown there would have been massive and the Patriots were running all over the Panthers. The Patriots decided to get cute and what was probably a 70-80% conversion chance on the ground got tossed away through the air. Given how long each team was holding onto the ball, there was no guarantee that the Pats were going to get the ball back even with 6 minutes left on the clock at that point. They lef themselves wide open for the exact scenario that played out, with the Panthers eating clock all the way to the end zone. I saw this game unfolding badly for us as soon as the failed on that 3rd and 1. The coaches should have seen it too, but they didn't. Just some bad game management down the stretch.