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Crucial calls don't go Panthers' way


CHARLOTTE – The laundry list of things not going the Panthers' way down the stretch of close games got longer Sunday.

Add the guys with laundry hanging out of their back pocket.

"When it rains, it pours," linebacker James Anderson said. "But hey, we've got to play through it."

Panthers players and coaches tried to take the high road about a trio of whistles that went against them in the final two-plus minutes of their 19-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. They didn't agree with the calls, but they agreed they had the power to prevent the game from coming down to that.

They recognized that reversing any of the calls wouldn't have guaranteed a victory, but it certainly left them playing a frustrating game of "what if."

The officiating drama began shortly after the Cowboys connected on a field goal to grab a 16-14 lead with 3:25 remaining. With the clock ticking down toward the two-minute warning and the Panthers facing a fourth-and-2 on their 39-yard line, quarterback Cam Newton recognized that the Cowboys had personnel all over the place and hurried up to the line to snap the ball.

Flags flew after the snap from the two officials closest to the Dallas sideline, and Panthers tight end Greg Olsen caught a short pass for an apparent first down. But instead of turning on his microphone to announce a penalty, referee Ron Winter said the Cowboys had been awarded a timeout before the snap.

"When they didn't change (personnel) and got to the line of scrimmage, he (defensive coordinator Rob Ryan) banged the timeout," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "I thought he handled it beautifully."

That wasn't exactly the version of events according to Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who was lined up close to the Cowboys' sideline for the play.

"It's crazy, because as I'm running my route, all I can hear is, 'Timeout! Timeout!' " LaFell said. "I'm running my route. We snapped the ball already. You can't call timeout once the ball is snapped. They had been doing that the whole game, and the ref wasn't giving them timeouts. On that particular one, the ref gave it to them.

"The referees on that side threw two flags. It doesn't make sense."

Given a chance to regroup, Dallas stopped Carolina on fourth down when rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne broke up a short pass for Panthers wide receiver Louis Murphy.

Replays – much like the naked eye – revealed that Claiborne hit Murphy before the ball arrived, but no penalty was called.

"I felt like I got pushed in the back early, but I don't make the calls," Murphy said. "He kind of hooked me and pushed me in the back before the ball got there, but it's a fast game. Refs do the best they can. That's that."

But that wasn't that. The Panthers, armed with two timeouts and the two-minute warning still to come, were in position to get the ball back.

On the first play right after the two-minute warning, a second-and-10 snap, Anderson tackled running back Phillip Tanner for no gain. But as Anderson celebrated his hard hit, officials dealt a bigger blow, penalizing the Panthers 15 yards for a horse collar tackle.

Officials are understandably sensitive to violent-looking hits, and Anderson's powerful forearm tackle sent Tanner flying onto his back in the same manner a runner who had been horse-collared would, but the play didn't meet the definition of a horse collar.

"It was lucky for them that he fell on his back, but I don't wear black and white, so it's not my call," Anderson said. "I didn't feel like I did it, but they make the call. Looking at the replay, my hand was on the front of his shoulder pads."

The penalty gave Dallas a new set of downs, and despite the defense allowing just four yards over the next three snaps, it set up a 38-yard field goal and gave Carolina the ball back with just 53 seconds left and with no timeouts.

Had the flag not been thrown and had the Panthers stopped Dallas on the initial third down of the drive, the Cowboys would have been trying a 45-plus-yard field goal, punting or going for it. After that, the Panthers would have had at least one timeout and at least 1:30 left on the clock and may have needed only a field goal to pull out the victory.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera categorized the decision to award the fourth-down timeout as a judgment call, and he subtly begged to differ with the lack of a pass-interference flag and the presence of a horse collar penalty.

He also pointed out that for the third time in a tight game, the Panthers had chances earlier in the game but didn't cash in.

This time, however, the Panthers deserved a second chance – once, if not twice, if not three times.

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