FOXBOROUGH — His arms finally free, Rob Gronkowski clapped when he saw the yellow flag in the end zone. The Patriots would have one more chance to win.
Seconds later, that chance was lost.
On Tuesday, Bill Belichick wouldn’t discuss the decision to wave off the penalty on the final play when Carolina’s Luke Kuechly wrapped his arms around Gronkowski as Tom Brady’s pass sailed toward them.
There was nothing New England’s coach could do about the 24-20 loss to the Panthers on Monday night. Better to focus on his second straight prime-time challenge Sunday night against the Denver Broncos.
“I don’t really have any comment to add about the officiating or any of those calls,” Belichick said during a conference call. “If you have any questions on that, you can talk to the league office and the officiating department. Let them give their explanation.”
Or you can listen to Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich.
“Both arms are being wrapped around the receiver as the ball’s in the air,” he said Tuesday on WEEI radio. “A foul’s a foul. No matter what it is, the ball’s there. It’s not like the ball’s 20 feet over his head or it lands on the 5-yard line or something.”
With the ball at the Carolina 18 and a lineman bearing down on him, Brady didn’t step into the throw as he usually does. The underthrown pass was intercepted by Robert Lester 4 yards into the end zone. Gronkowski, about 5 yards behind Lester, couldn’t move toward the ball with Kuechly bear-hugging him.
Referee Clete Blakeman conferred for a few seconds with back judge Terrence Miles, who threw the flag. Miles shook his head. Then Blakeman said there was no penalty and the game was over. Later, Blakeman told two pool reporters that Miles had called defensive pass interference but the ball was uncatchable.