Don't ignore Cam Newton
They stole the spotlight on Monday night. NFL officials were the story on Tuesday.
Back judge Greg Meyer threw the flag. Referee Clete Blakeman and his group of officials quickly got together and ruled that Tom Brady's throw with no time left -- intended for Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the end zone -- was uncatchable.
Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of officiating, defended the decision to pick up the flag and call no penalty on Luke Kuechly -- who was bear-hugging Gronkowski -- which ended the game and resulted in a 24-20 Carolina Panthers win.
Blandino said it was a "judgement call," while apparently not acknowledging Meyer's judgement, which was pass interference on Kuechly.
Other officials believed it was uncatchable. Problem is, they based that on the result of the play. Because it's pretty much impossible to know exactly where that ball would end up while it was still in mid-air. I mean, it's science, right?
The other officials saw the result, which was an interception a few yards ahead of the Kuechly bear-hug. They reacted to that.
And that penalty call should be handled like every other penalty call. Which is, you don't review them. You don't change the decision of a penalty based on what the result of the play was. If that was part of the rulebook, you could look at every pass interference in the history of the league and change it based on results.
As Blandino said, it's a judgement call. And the back judge made his. He threw the flag. In his eyes, it was pass interference. He based it on the play that he saw as it happened, not after it all played out. He was overruled, and that was wrong.
It stole the spotlight away from what was an unbelievable football game.
A Carolina Panthers team that had won five straight, coming off a grind-it-out 10-9 win in San Francisco the week before, hosting the New England Patriots who saw the returns of Aqib Talib and Shane Vereen, on Monday Night Football.
The Panthers had something to prove. Proving, once again, that the Patriots -- as banged up as they've been this season -- are still the measuring stick of the league.
And as both heavyweights exchanged blows, NFL officials got in the way of the real storyline: Cam Newton.
The Panthers quarterback might not have seen New England's best defense, thanks to injuries. But since the Patriots always prove us wrong with their "next man up" philosophy, we must acknowledge when the guy on the other end makes sure he has something to say about that.
It would seem like an injustice to football analysis to not give Newton credit for answering Brady on multiple occasions Monday night, on the big stage, with several highlight-reel drives, and ultimately sealing the deal on a 24-20 win with a 25-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr. along the left sideline, with a minute left in the game.
We have no idea what would have happened had Meyer's penalty flag on Kuechly stood. The Patriots would have been able to run another play. But we assume they would have definitely scored.
Sure, most of us agree, the Patriots should have had that extra opportunity. But they didn't. And they lost with controversy.
On Tuesday, that controversy overshadowed Newton's 209-yard passing, 62-yard rushing, three-touchdown, zero-turnover performance, leading the Panthers to a 7-3 record and their sixth-straight win.
And he bested Brady -- the measuring stick for quarterbacks on the big stage -- in the process.
Newton helped the Panthers to a 10-3 lead at the half. He led the charge on a first-quarter, nine-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a nine-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell over the middle and a 7-0 Carolina lead.
He then set them up for a field goal and a 10-0 lead with a 12-play, 63-yard drive down to the New England 25-yard line in the second quarter.
But the second half was when Newton really had to step up his game. Because that's when Brady attempted to make it his.
The Patriots received the ball to begin the third quarter. Brady drove his team 82 yards on eight plays, finishing it off with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski, tying the game at 10-10.
It was vintage Brady. Halftime adjustments. The best quarterback was in the building. Making it look easy. The Patriots had it in the bag.
And then, after four straight pass plays to open the next drive, Newton found himself with nobody to throw to on 3rd-and-7 from his own 37-yard line. With the Patriots' defensive line in pursuit, Newton ran around the field and shook defenders for a total of 75 yards in order to gain 14 yards up the middle and pick up the first down in New England territory.
Newton finished the 13-play, 81-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen at the front-right pylon, answering Brady and giving the Panthers a 17-10 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter.
But Brady wasn't done. He answered that with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard Stevan Ridley touchdown run, tying the game at 17-17.
After the Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal and take a 20-17 lead later in the fourth quarter, Newton had one more chance to answer Brady, who had done everything in his power to steal Newton's thunder.
Thirteen plays and 83 yards later, Ginn Jr. was running into the end zone along the left sideline after pulling in a Newton pass, good for a 25-yard touchdown with a minute left in the game, giving the Panthers a 24-20 lead, and making sure that the Patriots would need more than just a field goal.
Brady never responded. Or at least, the officials didn't give him one more chance to do so. And in the process, they stole the spotlight from a young Panthers quarterback who made a pretty bold statement under the bright lights.
Amidst controversy, the Patriots should hope every player was paying attention to Newton's performance. Because if these two teams meet again this season, it will be when the lights are at their brightest.
And they wouldn't want him stealing the spotlight on that night.