Monday night’s matchup proved many things but the contest between the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots served, really, to prove one thing.
Carolina are a good team.
There’ll be plenty of debate over the non-call at the end of the game and whether it should have been a flag or not but the Panthers deserved the win, regardless.
Cam Newton, maturing into the quarterback the Panthers had hoped he would, was electric. Leading his team on scoring drives of 57, 80, 81 and 83 yards, Carolina’s signal caller continually made the right adjustments completing 19 of 28 attempts with an additional 62 yards on the ground.
The win, which sees the Panthers move to 7-3, sees Ron Rivera’s side move into pole position for the fifth seed in the playoffs meaning that, providing they continue playing well, they will face the Saints with the chance to win the NFC South.
For a team that started 1-3, their six straight wins have propelled them into relevance and this, their latest unexpected victory, comes only eight days after they narrowly defeated last year’s Super Bowl runner-up, San Francisco.
It could have all been so different though, had the final flag of the night not been waved off.
On the game’s final play, with Carolina narrowly in front, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took aim at the endzone as the Patriots sought to regain the lead and secure the win.
Panther’s line-backer, Robert Lester, had read Brady’s pass though - stepping in front of the intended recipient, Rob Gronkowski, and intercepting the ball to spark wild celebrations in the stands.
There was a problem though. Behind Lester, the continually impressive Luke Kuechly was all over Gronkowski – grabbing him with both hands at one point.
The nearest official immediately threw his flag meaning that if the call stood, New England would get another shot at the win.
Then, after a brief discussion, correctly, or incorrectly depending on which side of the fence you’re on, the officials waved the flag off meaning the Panthers had won their sixth straight game.
Incensed, Brady and back-up Ryan Mallett argued with the officials as they left the field but it was to no avail and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was left less than impressed.
"There was no explanation given to me. Officials ran off the field. I didn't see anything.
“It was the last play of the game. There was a flag thrown and then the game was over.”
The win leaves both sides with 7-3 records however, the Saints remain in front of the Panthers courtesy of their 8-2 record, meaning there is everything to play for in three weeks’ time when they meet at the Superdome.
Trouble in Texas
Gary Kubiak coached Sunday’s loss from the coaching booth but he will have heard, clearly, how the Texan fan base felt before his sides’ late game implosion.
Replacing the lively Case Keenum with Matt Schaub, Kubiak’s decision was initially vilified by the vocal home support, despite Keenum’s first three drives of the second half all ending in punts.
Cutting the 11 point deficit however, Schaub got the offence going and could have won the game had not been for a late game miscommunication with Andre Johnson.
The missed assignment, which quickly turned into a full-scale shouting match, came after the Texan receiver didn’t finish the play, a play that would have nudged the free-falling Texans in front against a Terrlle Pryor-less Raiders side.
The heated exchange was quickly downplayed after the game though as both players admitted their faults.
“We just exchanged some words, it’s just heat of the moment.
“Once we came in the locker room, we talked about it, left it alone so I’m not worried about that.
“Me and Matt have played a lot of football together” Johnson said.
Falling behind again, this time 24-0, RGIII made his feeling’s clear following Washington’s 24-16 loss to the improving Philadelphia Eagles.
“They did a good job scheming us up” he’s quoted as saying in the Washington Post.
“They kind of knew what was coming.”
The criticism, a thinly veiled attack at the Washington coaching staff, comes as the second year quarterback continues to struggle with his accuracy and decision making as he continues his comeback following ACL surgery.
After the game Mike Shanahan, the Washington head coach admitted his side had taken too long to get going as he admitted it took them “until the fourth quarter to make a couple plays.”
Not that the Eagles minded, winning at home for the first time in over a year (413 days to be exact) they enter their bye-week in good shape and top of their division.
A year after Andy Reid coached them to a 4-12 record, the Eagles are beginning to gel under Chip Kelly’s tutelage although it remains to be seen if their week off is a well-earned rest or an untimely interruption.