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Panthers' most memorable '13 plays: No. 5

Continuing my look at the most memorable plays during the Carolina Panthers' 2013 season is one that also was one of the most controversial plays of the year.

No. 5

  • The play: (Nov. 18) Rookie safety Robert Lester intercepts a Tom Brady pass in the end zone on the final play and officials pick up a flag after initially calling pass interference on middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

  • The final score: Panthers 24, Patriots 20

  • Why it made the list: Without this play, Nos. 6 and 4 on this list would have been an afterthought. Without this play, the nation watching on "Monday Night Football" wouldn't have started talking about how Carolina was a serious playoff contender. Here's what happened. The Patriots had the ball at the Carolina 18-yard line with three seconds left. Brady dropped back and threw a bullet over the middle to Rob Gronkowski that Lester picked off. An official threw a flag, calling Kuechly for interfering with the tight end. Replays showed Kuechly was all over Gronkowski, never turning to look for the ball. The officials huddled and decided there was no penalty, claiming since the ball was underthrown it was uncatchable. Here's what referee Clete Blakeman said: "There were two officials that came in. One was the umpire and the other one was our side judge and there was a discussion at that point as to the, in essence, the catchability of the ball due to its location. So it was determined at that point in time that when the primary contact occurred on the tight end that the ball, in essence, was coming in underthrown and in essence it was immediate at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone. So there was a determination that, in essence, uncatchability, that the ball was intercepted at or about the same time the primary contact against the receiver occurred." To be fair, Kuechly seemed far more guilty on this play than he was on a last-minute interference call in Week 2 against Buffalo that ultimately cost Carolina the victory. To New England's credit, coach Bill Belichick and Gronkwoski handled the no call with class. Said Gronkowski: "That's not where the game is won or lost," but that's not entirely true. "We don't make excuses. I'm not trying to sit here and make an excuse that he held me at the end of the game. The game is four quarters long. It's won throughout all four quarters, not just the last plays of the game. ...They're a good football team. They scored more points than us and they beat us straight up." That he said Carolina was a good football team was the ultimate message the rest of the country finally got.