5 pivotal plays from the Patriots’ last-second loss to the Panthers

Dont'a Hightower chases Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

The Patriots lost a back-and-forth game against the Panthers on Sunday, falling to 2-2 on the season. The 33-30 defeat at Gillette Stadium was the team’s second home loss of the season. As befitting a game decided on a 48-yard field goal with no time remaining, it was a matchup decided on a handful of crucial plays.

For the Patriots, it was more of the same. Tom Brady led a two-touchdown comeback in the fourth quarter that almost looked routine. Yet the defense continued its struggles, allowing 444 yards of offense.

Here are five of the pivotal plays from Sunday’s game:


Trouble from a running back not named McCaffrey or Stewart

Heading into the game, the Patriots had undoubtedly prepared for the many challenges of facing both Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart.

Yet it was the little used third-string running back, Fozzy Whittaker, who scored the Panthers’ first touchdown of the day. Coming in the second quarter, Whittaker caught a well-designed screen pass from Cam Newton. He then simply followed a convoy of blockers into the end zone:

Newton showcased his unique ability in the fourth quarter

While Brady is perhaps unique in his ability to stage a fourth-quarter rally from the passing pocket, Newton has a special talent for driving his team forward through sheer power. Ahead 23-16 with 13 minutes left in the game, the Panthers had a 1st and goal at the seven-yard line.

Newton, who stands at 6-foot-5 and outweighs many linebackers, kept the ball on a play fake and charged through the line. Though the Patriots had multiple defenders in his way, Newton simply ran over them. It was the 50th rushing touchdown of his impressive career, and it gave Carolina a two-score lead:

Hightower once again produced a clutch play to aid a (short-lived) Patriots comeback


Back in the lineup for the first time since the season opener against the Chiefs, Dont’a Hightower delivered a crucial third-down sack to put the ball back in Brady’s hands. While his heroics ultimately proved to be in vain (as the Patriots lost), fans will be heartened by the fact that Hightower hasn’t lost his flair for the dramatic.

On 3rd and 5, Hightower used a well executed spin move to shed his blocker. He closed on Newton, ensuring that the elusive Panthers quarterback wasn’t given a second chance on the play:

Brady to Amendola on 4th and goal, with an Edelman gesture

After Hightower’s sack enabled the Patriots to get the ball back with plenty of time remaining in the game, Brady led the offense on a 10-play, 49-yard drive to tie the game at 30-30. Yet the comeback nearly derailed at the goal line.

On 4th and goal, Brady was forced to cycle through multiple passing options. He held the ball for what seemed an eternity before firing to an open Danny Amendola running across the back of the end zone. In his celebration, Amendola grabbed a JE11 flag (representative of Julian Edelman), showing it off as a tribute to the Patriots receiver currently recovering from a torn ACL.


Gilmore’s penalty wiped out Wise’s potentially game-changing sack

After the Patriots tied the score, the Panthers quickly faced a 3rd and 7 with 2:23 remaining in the fourth quarter. New England rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise burst through the Carolina line, sacking Newton for an 11-yard loss. It appeared that Brady might get the ball back with a chance to drive for the winning field goal.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, Stephon Gilmore’s penalty (illegal use of hands) meant that not only did the sack not count, but that Carolina was given a first down. On the very next play, Stewart rushed for 15 yards. The Panthers eventually managed to work the ball to the New England 30-yard line, where Graham Gano nailed the 48-yard field goal for a Carolina win: