NFL writers: Call questionable, but Panthers are for real

November 19, 2013 

What they’re writing about the Panthers’ victory against New England:

Bill Barnwell,

“The Patriots didn’t lose to the Panthers last night because they got jobbed by a bad call on the final play of the game. That’s wildly inaccurate. The Patriots lost because they let the game come down to one play from the 18-yard line down four points. They lost because they put off the moment of truth, because they let themselves down with subpar execution in key moments, because they were victimized by the same issues that seem to haunt this team through every one of its notable losses. The Patriots lost to the Panthers on Monday night because they’re not as good of a football team as the Panthers, who did all the little things that the old Patriots teams used to get credit for. And that includes daring the refs to call for a game-changing pass interference on the game-deciding play.

“New England had chance after chance to seal the game up or make it exceedingly difficult for Carolina to win, and it failed to execute on every one of those opportunities. The Patriots left game-changing plays on the field and made mistakes we would normally associate with a team that hadn’t ‘been there before,’ like the Panthers. Yes, the Patriots probably deserved a penalty on the final play, albeit not the one their fans were screaming for. But given how New England played with the game on the line, it deserved to lose, regardless of how that final call shook out. When the Patriots put themselves in a situation where they were desperate for one borderline call to go their way, they had already come up short.”

Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports

“Whether the flag should have been picked up or not, it was Carolina which put New England in position where it needed a defensive holding call to bail it out to get one more desperate shot at victory. Brady’s pass, which came under pressure, sure wasn’t a good one.

“And it was the Panthers who had put together the 83-yard, 5:33 game-winning touchdown drive to seize this game. And it was the now 7-3 upstarts, riding a six-game win streak, that stepped onto the big stage of national television and gave the Pats everything they could handle for 60 minutes, one of the best-played and spirited games of the season.

“There’s little doubt the Panthers believe in their quarterback, who calmly engineered multiple long, clock-churning drives, shook off mistakes and wowed everyone with video game scrambles.

“Cam Newton is still growing, but the trend lines are strong. He’s come a long way from past seasons sitting on the bench with a towel of frustration hung over his head. He’s confident in himself. And his teammates are confident in his ability to lead them. That was evident when the confident one was told of their confidence.

“The case can be made for Carolina as the second best team in the NFC – behind Seattle. With a physical, opportunistic defense and an improving offense led by a superior talent such as Newton, anything is possible. They own consecutive victories now over San Francisco and New England.

“If nothing else, this is a team that can create its own good fortune. It owes no one an apology about this victory.”

Ron Borges, Boston Herald

“Last night, once again, when a football game turned into a dogfight, the Patriots’ bark was worse than their bite and their defense was at its worst when it needed to be at its best.

“There will be the usual hue and cry about how the offense didn’t do enough and the referees screwed the Patriots in the end (which they did), but in games like last night’s – street fights disguised as athletic contests – big points will not save you because they are not possible to achieve.

“The only thing that will save you in a game like last night’s, a last-second 24-20 win by the Carolina Panthers, is the ability to hit back again and again and again until the issue is settled. The ability to wipe the blood from your nose and erase the pain in your lungs and hit back one more time.

“In games like those, the Patriots have consistently been found wanting.

“If this game was to be a measuring stick for these teams, if it was to truly be a declarative sentence trumpeting each team’s rightful place near the top of the NFL pecking order at a time of year when such statements are supposed to be made, they had to make this a game of inches.

“In the end that’s exactly what it was.

“It was a game of inches won by the Panthers, but it was more than that. It was also a street fight once again lost by the Patriots.”

Peter King, MMBQ (Sports Illustrated)

“First and foremost: Carolina is a very good team. There will be no ‘but’ in this column, no, Carolina ’s a very good team, but the Patriots got jobbed. None of that. Carolina doesn’t deserve that, and no one will ever know if the flag that was picked up in the end zone after the last play of the game would have led to the winning touchdown. Would the Patriots have scored from the 1-yard line on an untimed down against a defense that had been on the field for 29 plays in the final 17 minutes? We’ll never know.

“Carolina scored on drives of 90, 62, 81 and 83 yards, and Cam Newton was every bit the match of Tom Brady on Monday night in Charlotte. Newton consistently knew when to run and when to hold back and look for his secondary receivers, as he did on the winning touchdown pass, a 25-yard strike-and-run by Ted Ginn Jr. The promise GM Marty Hurney saw in Newton in the months before the 2011 draft is coming true, and the patience of offensive coordinator Mike Shula is paying off. Newton knows he doesn’t have to win games by himself now, and he can play the John Stockton role happily when the situation calls for it.

“The Panthers are in the driver’s seat for the fifth seed in the playoffs, and Monday’s win means they likely will enter the home-and-home series with New Orleans in December with a chance to win the NFC South – and win a bye in the first round of the playoffs. That’s a long way to come for a team that looked so lost at 1-3, one month into the season.”

Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe

“Monday night’s game was one of the biggest sporting events in North Carolina since Michael Jordan left Chapel Hill. You would have thought the Panthers were a first-year franchise, all doe-eyed about this visit from the big, bad Patriots. Carolina players, coaches, and fans were pumped and jacked. It was Yahoo Squared. (Didn’t these guys actually play in the Super Bowl against the Patriots just 10 years ago?) It was hard not to think of the 2012 Houston Texans Frauds who came to Foxborough wearing letter sweaters with an 11-1 record. Those Texans were routed in hideous fashion and have never been the same.

“Charlotte hadn’t hosted a Monday night game in five seasons. This was billed as a ‘return to relevance.’ The game was front-page news in the Charlotte Observer and the cover of the sports section featured an ESPN camera with a big headline asking, ‘Ready For Prime Time?’ The Panthers wore black jerseys and urged fans to dress in Johnny Cash casual. Most complied.

“Before the furious finish, we had 59 minutes of blood-and-thunder football, highlighted by a mano-a-mano featuring Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib and Carolina wideout Steve Smith. ... Talib looked a little like Jeff Van Gundy holding on to Alonzo Mourning.”

Greg Rosenthal,

“It was the game of the year in the NFL. It featured an electric performance from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady. and the signature game of Cam Newton’s young career.

“And yet it will be remembered for a controversial non-call on the game’s final play.

“The controversial ending takes nothing away from a sterling performance by Newton, who authored two gorgeous touchdown drives in the second half. It was the kind of prime-time effort by Newton that we’ve all been waiting for.

“The Panthers are 7-3 and deserve to be mentioned as one of the best teams in the NFL. Carolina was the first team in 37 games to not turn the ball over against New England. The Patriots, not the Panthers, made crucial errors twice inside the 10-yard line. The Panthers earned the win.”

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