The Carolina Panthers were driving downfield on its final offensive series of Sunday’s wild-card loss to the Saints, and was down five points at the New Orleans 21 with 41 seconds to play.
Quarterback Cam Newton was pressured and flushed backward and to his right before throwing a ball that sailed high out of bounds (and past the line of scrimmage), and flags flew.
Newton was called for intentional grounding, a penalty that shaved 10 seconds off the clock and pushed the Panthers back 13 yards.
Two plays later – an incomplete pass and a sack on Newton – the game, and Carolina’s postseason, had ended with the Saints’ 31-26 victory.
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“I liked what we were doing down the stretch and I thought we had a chance to score on that last drive, you know, and I kind of feel like it was taken away from us,” said head coach Ron Rivera. “That’s a tough one to handle.”
Rivera said he was not given an explanation by the referees for the call.
“I thought the quarterback was out of the pocket. I thought there was a receiver (Devin Funchess) in the vicinity. I thought the ball passed the line of scrimmage. I mean, I don’t know,” he said. “It’d be nice to have an explanation.”
Tight end Greg Olsen, who argued the call with officials after the game, said that he heard the other referees arguing against the call with the head official, Tony Corrente.
“I didn’t see (the play),” he said. “But I heard the other officials come in and try to convince the head ref that he was out of the pocket and the ball crossed the line of scrimmage. That’s what they continued to say over and over.
“I then thought he was going to change it, but obviously he stuck with what he originally saw.”
Despite teammates’ frustration with the penalty, Newton said that the play was not what decided the game.
“We could have played better as a team,” he said. “But that game didn’t come down to just one call that could have went either way.”