FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — To say that Tom Brady was unhappy about what transpired at the end of New England’s 2013 loss at Carolina would be an huge understatement.
Cam Newton had just led the Panthers on an 83-yard touchdown drive to put his team in front 24-20 with 59 seconds to play. But Brady came right back, and marched the Patriots to the Carolina 18 with 3 seconds left.
Brady dropped back on the game’s final play and lofted a pass into the end zone in the direction of Rob Gronkowski as time expired. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly was covering the tight end, and never turned toward the ball. But he reached out and bear-hugged Gronkowski — taking him out of the play.
A flag was thrown for pass interference. But after a brief discussion among officials, it was picked up. The ball was deemed uncatchable by Gronkowski.
“There is no foul on the play,” referee Clete Blakeman announced to cheers from Panthers fans and stunned looks from Patriots. “The game is over.”
Brady took off his helmet and chased after officials as they walked off the field. Cameras picked up the quarterback yelling an expletive as he pleaded his case to deaf ears.
“I wasn’t very positive. I don’t think I said very nice things to him,” Brady recalled Wednesday. “I wish we’d have gotten that call. It would have been a fun next play, I’ll tell you that.”
Sunday will mark the first meeting between the teams since that debated finish. Four years have passed, but Kuechly said he knows he likely received a gift that night from the officials.
“I might have got away with one there,” he said. “I’m not even gonna act like I didn’t. I might have got away with one.”
Told of Kuechly’s comments, Brady shrugged.
“Oh, man. Let’s replay that one then, too,” he said. “That was a tough game.”
Brady and the Patriots likely won’t be in a giving mood this time around, especially after they needed a late rally to beat Houston last week .
Sunday brings in a Panthers team that ranks No. 1 in total defense despite giving up 34 points in last week’s loss to New Orleans.
“Cam’s one of the great players in the league and they got a great defense,” Brady said. “They run the ball. They’ve got some good receivers. It’s a tough matchup.”
The rosters for both teams have undergone significant changes since 2013, though several key players from that final play still remain.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the passage of time should give everyone a clean slate to work with. But even in victory one lesson he learned from 2013 was that they “left too much time on the clock for Tom Brady.”
Kuechly, who played his college ball at Boston College, ordinarily might expect to receive at least a modest embrace from Boston fans during his return to New England. Now he’s thinking a hostile environment is more likely.
“I’m sure somebody will say something to me,” Kuechly said. “But, I’ve spent some time up there and I know what those fans are like. They love football … that’ll be funny. We’ll see what happens.”
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