Carolina prevails in controversy


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the Carolina Panthers celebrated their sixth straight win, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were left wondering why a penalty that could have saved them on the final play was wiped out.

Cam Newton threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds left and Carolina held off New England 24-20 Monday night when officials picked up a flag in the end zone on the final play.

Newton drove the Panthers 83 yards on 13 plays for the go-ahead touchdown, but the Patriots had a chance at an improbable comeback when Brady moved New England to the Carolina 18 and fired into the end zone on the final play.

The pass was intercepted by safety Robert Lester, but officials threw a flag after it appeared linebacker Luke Kuechly had interfered with tight end Rob Gronkowski by grabbing him with both hands. The officials quickly gathered together and waved off the flag.

“There was no explanation given to me. Officials ran off the field. I didn’t see anything,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It was the last play of the game. There was a flag thrown and then the game was over.”

An angry Brady sprinted over to two officials to argue the call as they walked off the field.

“He was kind of weaving in and out of there. I didn’t really want to throw it over his head and out of bounds, so I was a little indecisive,” Brady said. “It wasn’t a great throw. No excuses. Should have been a better throw.”

Meanwhile, the Panthers celebrated.

“We had good pressure and our safety Robert Lester was in good position to make the play,” coach Ron Rivera said.

Brady was 29 of 40 for 296 yards and one touchdown.

Newton completed 19 of 28 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran seven times for 62 yards in what will go down as one of his best games a pro.

After the game, Rivera called it a “gutsy effort.”

“It wasn’t our best defensive effort, but it was one of our better offensive efforts,” Rivera said. “It was good for our guys to win a game like this.”

Carolina’s win came eight days after a 10-9 victory over reigning NFC champion San Francisco.

The Panthers entered the fourth quarter with a 17-10 lead, but Stevan Ridley made up for an earlier fumble with a 1-yard touchdown run and the Patriots took a 20-17 lead with 6:32 left when Stephen Gostkowski slipped a 26-yard field goal just inside the left upright.

Carolina came right back down the field and Newton hit the speedy Ginn on a hitch route. Ginn escaped Kyle Arrington along the left sideline and outraced Logan Ryan to the left pylon for his third touchdown of the season.

Newton gave Carolina a 17-10 lead in the third quarter on an 81-yard touchdown drive that took more than 8 minutes off the clock and featured a scramble in which the third-year quarterback avoided four tacklers and turned a potential 20-yard sack into a 14-yard gain and a first down.

Newton completed all seven passes on the drive for 77 yards finding Greg Olsen at the right pylon with 2:10 left for his second touchdown pass, putting the Panthers back in front.

“Cam did the things he needed to do to put us in position to win the football game,” Rivera said. “It has a lot to do with his maturity that we have talked about.”

Former NFL player Thomas Howard dies in car crash

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Former NFL linebacker Thomas Howard has died following a high-speed car crash on a freeway in Oakland.

The Alameda County Coroner’s office said the 30-year-old Howard was one of two men who died in the crash early Monday morning. The driver of the other car, 64-year-old Zeng Long Liu of Hayward, also died.

Howard was driving a speeding BMW when he hit a big rig, flipped over the center divider and went head-on into a Honda traveling on the other side around 1 a.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.

Howard played eight years in the NFL after being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second round out of Texas-El Paso in 2006. He was most recently with Atlanta before getting released last week.

Fan’s fall caught on video

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Authorities say charges are possible after an unruly fan fell from the third deck of Ralph Wilson Stadium and landed on another man during the Buffalo Bills’ game against the New York Jets on Sunday.

The team says the man won’t be allowed back into the stadium.

Video shows the fan sliding down a handrail in a seated position Sunday before flipping backward and falling about 30 feet into the stands below.

Erie County sheriff’s spokeswoman Mary Murray says the fall is being investigated and charges may be filed. Police aren’t releasing the men’s names because of the investigation and aren’t commenting on their condition, citing privacy laws. A witness said both were conscious after the accident.

Bills President Russ Brandon says in a statement Monday that the fallen fan’s behavior was irresponsible.

NFL investigator: Dolphins have been cooperative

DAVIE, Fla. — The NFL’s special investigator looking into the Miami Dolphins’ harassment case has begun questioning players at the team’s complex.

As New York attorney Ted Wells began a visit expected to last two or three days, he released a statement Monday in his first public comments about the investigation. Wells says he’ll meet with players, coaches and staff. He adds that the organization has been helpful in arranging interviews and urging personnel to cooperate.

Tackle Jonathan Martin left the team three weeks ago and alleges he was harassed daily by teammates, including guard Richie Incognito, who has been suspended. Martin spent nearly seven hours with Wells on Friday in New York.

By wire sources