That certainly wasn't lost on Carolina's stingy defense.
"I was saying, ‘Oh man, they can't call that,' but there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to stop them," Panthers cornerback
"Once it happened," Johnson said, "I was just on to the next play."
Fortunately for the Panthers, it didn't come to that. Officials huddled and picked up the flag, determining that linebacker
The only person in position for the ball was rookie safety
Rehash it they have. On SportsCenter following ESPN's game broadcast, the network devoted the first five-plus minutes to that play alone, showing it 14 times before showing any other highlights of the Panthers' impressive victory. And even with the principle Patriots on the play – Gronkowski and quarterback Tom Brady – not pinning blame for the loss on the call, ESPN's 11 a.m. edition of SportsCenter led off with nearly seven minutes of discussion about the call and 12 replays before following with a mere five-play highlight package from the rest of the game.
Rivera readily admitted Monday that if the shoe had been on the other foot, he would have been questioning the call.
And Rivera certainly has walked a mile or two in those shoes.
"We've been on the other end of those calls," Rivera said. "The last two years have been very hard. It's always good every now and then to get something to bounce your way."
As Brady navigated the Patriots from their own 20-yard line into scoring position after gaining possession with just 59 seconds left, Rivera flashed back to the Panthers' loss to Buffalo in Week 2. In that game, the Bills went 80 yards in 1:42 without a timeout and scored the game-winning touchdown with two seconds left. Earlier in the drive, a
Rivera also flashed back to Tampa Bay in Week 11 of 2012, when a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty on linebacker
He also thought back to losses at Atlanta and Chicago last year, games in which the referees didn't play a major role but where the Panthers defense couldn't close it out.
"We were so close in all those games," Rivera said. "You just hope somebody makes a play."
This time, for the second consecutive week, the Panthers were the ones making the game-winning play.
Unlike Carolina's lone loss in its final six games last season – at Kansas City – and unlike this year's season opener against Seattle, the offense did its job. Unlike the heartbreakers at Atlanta and Chicago last year, the defense did its job.
And, unlike Tampa Bay last year and Buffalo this year, the officials sided with the Panthers' point of view.
"Those can go either way. We've all been around those," Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "I'll say this: ‘We thought we knew what they were going to do. That's what they did. We were in position, and the ref made the call he made.'
"Some of those have gone against us in the past. We were fortunate enough to come out on top this time."