Frustration reigned after New England's 24-20 loss to the Panthers Monday night, but not simply because of the final score. The game ended on a controversial, if not strange, call by the officials.
The Patriots were on the Carolina 18-yard line with three seconds left in regulation. Tom Brady's pass to Rob Gronkowski was picked off in the end zone, but a flag was thrown for either pass interference or illegal contact on the defense.
Brady readied to repeat the play. Instead, the officials held a quick conference, picked up the flag, gave the win to Carolina, and jogged off the field.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick quietly seethed during his post-game press conference.
"I saw what you saw," he said of the flag's mysterious dismissal. "There was no explanation given to me."
Belichick's bitterness was amplified when he invoked a past problem with referees.
"Didn't get one tonight; didn't get one in the Baltimore game. I guess that's the way you do it."
The reference was to Baltimore's 31-30 win on September 23, 2012, when it appeared the Ravens kicker missed the game-winner. The officials awarded Baltimore the points and Belichick was livid after the game. He was later fined for grabbing onto one of the officials to gain an explanation of the non-reviewable call.
Monday night he glibly recalled last season's lesson on how chasing down answers "wasn't the right thing to do." Which is not to say he wouldn't have appreciated a better understanding. "Sure. That was the last play of the game. There was a flag thrown then the game was over."
Brady was also agitated. The quarterback was caught on the national broadcast using choice words to convey his displeasure to the officials.
He regained his composure at the podium, however.
"I didn't see the play," Brady recited. "I don't know whether it was a good call or a bad call. Shot ourselves in the foot too many times."
Pressed again, he remained diplomatic.
"I don't make the calls or the rules. Like I said, I didn't see it. I wish it didn't come down to that."