BOSTON (CBS) -- Is it safe to stop talking about the controversial final play of the Patriots-Panthers game yet?
That play -- rightfully -- dominated Tuesday's discussion, to the point where here on Wednesday, there's not one opinion, angle or theory that hasn't been covered.
But of course, there was football for 59 minutes and 57 seconds prior to that fateful snap, and before we fully move ahead to Denver, let's take one last run through some of the noteworthy action, shall we?
--First off, people always complain that sideline reporters are useless and never say anything, and sometimes that is true. But Lisa Salters gets an A-plus for her pregame report: "Aqib Talib knows he cannot take too long to get the rust off tonight, not [when he's] going up against 13-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith. 'Steve is a dog,' Talib said about the matchup. 'He's gonna push off, he's gonna do a little extra blocking after the whistle, he's going to come out and compete,' Talib said, 'so I better be ready to compete."
There are thousands of game previews you can read, watch or listen to, but rare is the one that turns out to be so true right off the bat.
--Why did the Patriots find themselves losing late in a game they could have won? The reasons are many, but stupid penalties plagued them throughout the night.
On their second play from scrimmage, Shane Vereen picked up five yards on a screen pass to set up third-and-2, but it was called back. I believe the officiating crew mistakenly called a block in the back on Dan Connolly, when it was in fact Logan Mankins who saw this:
... and decided to do this:
That was dumb. Though at the same time, perhaps the refs' gaffe (Connolly barely touched his man) was just a warning sign of things to come.
--Stupid penalty No. 2:
Yes, when you're lying on the ground without a helmet after your teammate tackled you because you initiated a wrestling match, that is indeed a stupid penalty.
--Dumb penalty No. 3:
OK, well, that is the best footage we have of Logan Mankins' personal foul penalty late in the second quarter. Nobody knows what happened, as there were no replays shown, but whatever Mankins did or claims to have not done, the penalty moved the Patriots from the 26-yard line to the 41. That drive resulted in a field goal, as they were only able to get the ball to the 24.
--There was also the Stevan Ridley fumble, which not only took points off the board for the Patriots but also confirmed to even the last defender of Ridley's ball security (raises hand) that the kid does indeed have a problem. What's worse than just the fumble alone is that the Panthers made it very clear that attacking the football when it was in 22's arms was a major part of their game plan. Here is how Luke Kuechly and Charles Johnson attacked Ridley just two plays before he loosened his grip and fumbled:
At that point, something needed to click inside Ridley's head. He needed to take extra care, realizing the Panthers were aware of his tendency to fumble and were trying to exploit it. Instead, he hit the hole while holding the ball like this ....
... and then held it even farther away from his body as contact neared:
When you carry the football in the NFL, you're going to fumble -- it's just a fact of life. Guys are absolute monsters and you're getting hit from all angles. Fumbles are unavoidable. But ones like this? These are mental mistakes that are just completely unacceptable. Perhaps a week at practice with the Foxboro Pop Warner teams will help Ridley remember the fundamentals.
--The other play everybody wants to talk about: Third-and-1 from the Carolina 8-yard line with 6:42 left in a 17-17 game.
The Patriots were running the ball with success, picking up 21 yards on six rushing plays on that drive. So it stood to reason that a handoff to LeGarrette Blount was the best option. I believe the Patriots wanted to do that, but when Carolina stacked the box with nine bodies to stop the run, that plan changed:
Brady went under center and screamed, "Two! Two!" I don't know what that means because the Patriots never tell me their calls and signals. Nevertheless, Brady had absolutely nowhere to go with that ball, as Gronkowski was double-covered, James Develin -- in a surprise of all surprises -- was not open and neither was Aaron Dobson.
If you want to criticize the decision to pass, I think it's hard to argue they were left without a choice. Where you have a case is in that particular play selection. Having James Develin as one of your three receiving options is not good.
--I've never been an offensive lineman -- something about being a foot too short and 150 pounds too light -- but I imagine the feeling of knowing your quarterback is about to get railroaded and it's all your fault ... I imagine that's not a good feeling. Here's the exact moment when Nate Solder's stomach likely dropped to the floor:
--I do not know how Julian Edelman survived this hit by Mike Mitchell:
For that matter, I don't know how Mike Mitchell survived that hit by Mike Mitchell.
--I briefly mentioned this yesterday, but it bears repeating: Is there any rule that makes less sense than the push to protect "defenseless receivers"? It is the most selective protection, considering what kind of other helmet-to-helmet is completely legal. Look no further than Rob Gronkowski just about every time he catches a pass. On his touchdown play, he was dragging two human beings on his back, which is a pretty defenseless position.
Up stepped Mr. Mitchell, who saw a green light opportunity ....
... and took it, launching the crown of his helmet up and through Gronkowski's facemask:
I'm not saying that was against the rules and I'm not even saying that it should be against the rules necessarily. I just think the idea that the NFL is "protecting" players' brains is a facade that gets exposed more and more as time goes on.
--When Danny Amendola motioned inside and then back out to the slot before running a precise 4-yard route on a third-and-4 to pick up a first down late in the second, it looked downright -- dare I say -- Wes Welkerian.
--Football is sort of complicated, I'll give you that, but why is it so often that too many players fail to grasp simple concepts? Case in point: The Patriots faced a fourth-and-2 at the Carolina 38-yard line early in the second. Tom Brady dropped back to pass and threw over the head of Rob Gronkowski, who was at the 24-yard line. Gronk got a hand on the ball and tipped it to the 16-yard line, where a diving Mitchell made a diving attempt but came up just short of an interception.
Mitchell was devastated:
Unless you're catching an interception at a full spring and can definitely make it back at least to the line of scrimmage, you don't want to make an interception on fourth down. Had Mitchell made this pick (and had a penalty on Carolina not given the Patriots the first down anyway), he would have been tackled at the 16-yard line, costing his team 22 yards of field position.
It's always the defensive backs who seem to show a lack of understanding. Remember when Marlon McCree was asked why he intercepted Brady's fourth-down pass back in the 2006 playoffs (which he later fumbled thanks to a Troy Brown strip)? His answer: "I was trying to make a play, and anytime I get the ball I am going to try and score. ... Why would I knock the ball down? He threw it right to me. ... I would do the same thing if I had the same opportunity. This time I would just secure the ball more securely."
Defensive backs are the best.
--This was also an incredible athletic feat by Gronkowski:
As if running through three players wasn't enough, he capped it off with that instinct to find the goal line and reach across it before hitting the turf. Impressive, sir.
--If we're going to talk athletic feats, we're going to have to talk about the Cam Newton scramble. It went down in the books as a 14-yard gain, but referring to it that way would be making a slight understatement.
The Panthers faced a third-and-7 from their own 37-yard line. Newton took a shotgun snap and dropped back to his own 28-yard line. Rob Ninkovich came diving through the O-line and wrapped up Newton -- or so he thought. Newton escaped.
Newton then retreated to his 21-yard line. He looked panicked, but he wasn't at all. He was cornered by Dont'a Hightower and Ninkovich ...
... so he stepped forward ...
... then backward, breaking Hightower's ankles in the process:
But Newton wasn't out of danger. A charging Chandler Jones came in from Newton's left and started to break down to make the tackle:
But Newton simply pinned the gas pedal and went zero-to-60 before Jones -- a pretty quick guy himself -- knew what happened:
Newton then got around the corner and cut back over the middle of the field before Hightower caught him from behind (credit to Hightower, I guess, for catching up with Newton, because that seems like a borderline impossible feat after what happened in the backfield.)
That was just an incredible individual effort by Newton. It looked like an 18-year-old playing football in the playground against a bunch of kindergarteners.
--What made the least sense on that play was how Jon Gruden followed it up.
"That's why," Gruden said, "I drive my car home at night with memories -- or nightmares -- of Cam Newton."
--I promised I wouldn't talk about the final play, and I won't, but I do have a message to anyone who has been arguing that the pass was "uncatchable." These people either:
- Don't watch much of the NFL
- Hate the Patriots with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns
- Are trying to argue for the sake of arguing and bothering you.
Whichever it is, tell them their argument holds absolutely no water. If you need an illustration, point to the Giants' win in Foxboro back in Week 9 of 2011. Eli Manning threw a prayer to Victor Cruz from the New England 21-yard line. The ball traveled about 7 yards deep into the end zone, but safety Sergio Brown -- who stunk out loud -- tackled Cruz at the goal line. Here's a look at how far Cruz was from the ball:
Now, which is more possible: Stopping and coming back to a spot on the field where you had already been, or zooming through time and space to skip ahead 7 yards?
So don't let anyone argue that the pass was "uncatchable." In the NFL, "uncatchable" means 10-12 yards out of bounds. That's pretty much it.
--As costly as the whole flag fiasco at the end was, it could have been avoided if Shane Vereen hadn't dropped this pass along the left sideline on the final drive:
It would have been first-and-10 from the 29-yard line with 19 seconds left, the clock stopped and one timeout still in their back pocket. Instead, they didn't cross the 30-yard line until the clock was at 0:06.
--Again, not mentioning the final play, per se, but three plays prior to it, this was called pass interference:
--After the Carolina penalty, which gave the Patriots a first down at the Carolina 36-yard line with 10 seconds left, this is what the face of a man who understands how dangerous the Patriots' quarterback can be late in games:
--The Patriots lost. Fair and square? Ehh, not exactly, but no matter. They didn't win.
Still, despite coming up short, is there any other quarterback who inspires so much confidence in such dire situations than Tom Brady? It's sort of taken for granted at this point, and Monday's near-comeback got buried by referee debates, but there's nobody who's calmer or more confident in the most intense moments than Brady. This shot says it all: Down four, need a touchdown, three seconds left, and Brady has every bit of confidence that he's going to get it done.
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