Some game-changing plays from New England's 24-20 loss to Carolina may go unexamined because of a controversial non-call. But there's one fourth-quarter snap that deserves a longer look.
The Patriots and Panthers were tied, 17-17, when New England set up for a third-and-1 just 8 yards from touchdown territory. There were 11 minutes to How did it unfold? Quarterback Tom Brady threw out of the back of the end zone.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski rung up three points for a Patriots lead, but Carolina answered even louder. The Panthers marched downfield, went up 24-20, and left only 59 seconds on the clock.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was asked Tuesday about the play call.
"We always try to give ourselves multiple options on any play like that," he said. "Run, pass or if it’s just a pass and haven an opportunity to get multiple people out in the pattern. I think they did a good job of covering the front side of the pattern where [Rob] Gronkowski was and [James] Develin was in the flat, they did a decent job there.
"[They] got a little bit of rush on us and [Tom Brady] ended up going back there to AD [Aaron Dobson] and it wasn’t really clean back there and I thought he, under the circumstances, made a good decision to go ahead and throw the ball away, not take a negative play and give Steve [Gostkowski] an opportunity to kick the field goal."
Those three points resembled little more than a lost chance at game's end. While no one will pin the loss entirely on that failed third-and-1, it is a play the Patriots would probably take back.
Brady admitted regret in his post game press conference: "I wish we would have converted it. We didn’t execute great. We had an opportunity. That was a big play in the game and we didn’t come up with it."
There are plays for every situation an NFL coach or coordinator can conceive of. There are plays specifically designed to gain 1 yard. Why not ring one up? Why not use Stevan Ridley or LeGarrette Blount, two backs who were running well on the night, to muscle out the short conversion? Maybe it was simply a matter of wanting to get all 8 yards in one shot.
"That wasn’t the thinking," McDaniels scoffed. "Like I said, we had options on the play. Sometimes you have a run and a pass called together and if you see something that deters you from using the run then you know, you end up with the throw. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was designed to get all eight.
"It was a play with some options, unfortunately we didn’t end up picking up that first down there. Anytime you make a call and it doesn’t necessarily work out, you feel like you wish you’d been able to do something different. But that happens, usually every week there are calls like that. Unfortunately that one did not go our way."