CHARLOTTE – Ted Ginn said he had never caught a game-winning, fourth quarter touchdown in his entire football career. Not high school. Not college.
Instead, the Panthers wide receiver saved his first game-winning touchdown for the bright lights of Monday Night Football against the New England Patriots. And his electrifying play propelled Carolina to a 24-20 victory.
"Ted Ginn just made an unbelievable play at the end," quarterback Cam Newton said. "He caught the ball, made a guy miss, and his speed got him to the end zone."
The Panthers wide receiver hauled in a short pass on a hitch route, then slipped away from cornerback Kyle Arrington and outran two New England defenders to the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown with 59 seconds remaining in the game.
"Once I saw the opening, I just took it," Ginn said. "I just turned and tried to make something happen, and luckily I turned it into a touchdown."
Carolina had come back to take a four-point lead, but the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady had all three timeouts at their disposal.
On the ensuing drive, Brady was pressured into three consecutive incompletions, but he converted on fourth-and-10 with a 23-yard gain to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Three timeouts and five plays later, the Patriots had the ball on the Carolina 25-yard line with six seconds left. Brady found wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a 7-yard gain and he ran out of bounds with three seconds left.
On the game's final play, Brady targeted Gronkowski. The pass was underthrown, and rookie safety Robert Lester hauled in the interception in the end zone.
Bank of America Stadium erupted. Then everyone in the stadium noticed a yellow flag on the ground. Linebacker Luke Kuechly was tied up with Gronkowski in the back of the end zone, but the officials ruled that there was no foul on the play.
"I was just listening, seeing what they were discussing," safety Mike Mitchell said. "When I heard the line judge say, 'Pick that up. That ball was uncatchable,' that's one of the best things I've ever heard."
Said tight end Greg Olsen: "As great a win as I've been a part of. I just think that says a lot about our team and our franchise. It was an all-around great team win against a very good opponent."
The game was over, and the celebration commenced.
But the discussion about the overturned flag continued.
Referee Clete Blakeman explained the officials' decision: "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.
"I'm pleased that our officiating crew got together and communicated and discussed it and, ultimately, I believe we got it right."
Carolina's smothering defense was the main talking point of the first half.
The Panthers took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when Newton connected with wide receiver Brandon LaFell for a 9-yard score.
The Patriots threatened to cut into that lead or level the score early in the second quarter when Carolina was called for two penalties that extended the drive.
"I saw the ball (exposed) and I was just hoping that I could hit it and get it out," Short said. "I was ecstatic. Mario chased the ball in pursuit and picked it up."
Carolina turned that takeaway into a 43-yard Graham Gano field goal. Stephen Gostkowski countered with a 42-yard field goal for New England's only points before halftime.
The Patriots got the ball to start the second half and produced an 8-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that didn't require a single third down conversion. Brady connected with Gronkowski on a quick slant for a 9-yard score.
Carolina answered by re-taking the lead on the next possession.
Newton engineered a 13-play, 81-yard drive that lasted 8:21 and ended with Olsen hauling in a perfectly thrown pass in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.
New England came right back to tie the game at 17. This time the Patriots moved 80 yards in nine plays and Ridley found the end zone with a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
"There was kind of a lull in the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter that should not have been there," head coach Ron Rivera said.
After a Carolina three-and-out, New England took advantage of a short field, and Gostkowski converted a 26-yard field goal to give the Patriots their first lead, 20-17, with 6:32 left in the game.
The Panthers began their sixth and final possession on their own 17. Newton converted two consecutive third downs with his legs, then a holding call on Patriots safety Devin McCourty on third-and-seven gave the Panthers a first down at the New England 31-yard line with 2:06 remaining.
Three plays later, Newton threw a strike to Ginn, who did the rest and gave Carolina the lead for good.
"I'm so excited for our players," Rivera said. "They won the kind of game that a lot of people don't think we can win. I think that proved a lot today."