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However, there were 129 snaps in this game before that fateful final play. While the Patriots actually played very well for much of the game, several missed opportunities came back to haunt them against a tough opponent.
The miscues started early for the Patriots. They came out relatively strong on their first possession, picking up three first downs, but a Greg Hardy sack on third-and-four brought on the punting unit. Carolina would go on to drive 90 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing possession to go up 7-0 early.
How did the Patriots respond? They got the ball back and marched right down the field, largely by running right through the Panthers #2 ranked defense. However, an impressive 67 yard drive resulted in no points when Stevan Ridley fumbled at the Carolina 13. The Panthers kicked a field goal on the ensuing drive, going up 10-0 despite the Patriots ability to consistently move the ball on their defense.
Another costly miscue was Logan Mankins' unnecessary roughness penalty on the teams third and final first half possession. The 15 yard penalty turned a 2nd-and-10 into a 2nd-and-25, meaning that Brady's 14 yard strike to Rob Gronkowski merely set up a field goal rather than moving the chains. As a result, the Patriots only had three first half points despite generally playing well on offense.
This "miscue" is harder to properly assess, as there was no replay shown as to why Mankins was assessed the penalty. Mankins claimed after the game that the ref "told me I punched a guy in the face", something Mankins adamantly insisted "didn't happen." Regardless, it clearly was a costly play for a Patriots team looking to gain momentum with a touchdown before the half.
Things got better in the second half, with the Patriots scoring two touchdowns to tie the game at 17. The injury depleted defense forced a three-and-out, giving the Patriots a golden opportunity to drive down the field and score the go-ahead touchdown.
Drive they did, using a powerful running game and efficient short passes to march all the way down to the Carolina 8. However, Tom Brady's pass to a well-covered Aaron Dobson fell incomplete, bringing on Stephen Gostkowski for yet another field goal. The playcalling decision was curious not just by choosing to throw in short-yardage, but also doing so downfield without any short outlet option (a role Shane Vereen played perfectly all game) available for Brady.
As a result, the Patriots settled for a three point lead, the Panthers ensuing touchdown drive gave them the lead instead of merely tying the game, and the Patriots were forced to drive for a game winning touchdown instead of a field goal in the final minute.
I don't know for sure if the Patriots would have punched in a game winning touchdown if they had been awarded a final chance for Kuechly's interference. I do know that the Patriots had plenty of opportunities throughout the game to make up their four point margin of defeat. They didn't do so, undermining a performance that saw them put up 390 yards on one of the league's premier defenses. There are many contributing factors to yesterday's loss, but untimely miscues had far more impact on the game than any one call, regardless of how poor it was.