The only thing worse than getting kicked in the teeth is getting kicked in the teeth twice.
The Carolina Panthers know exactly how this feels.
The Panthers had two highly questionable calls on the same play go against them in the final minute of regulation in Carolina's 27-21 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11.
Carolina led 21-13 with :56 remaining in the fourth quarter when Bucs' quarterback Josh Freeman lined up in a shotgun formation from the Tampa Bay 20 yard line. The Bucs had less than a minute to drive 80 yards without any timeouts to score a touchdown and add a two-point conversion to force overtime.
Tampa Bay was going to need a few breaks to win, and they got two breaks on the same play.
The Bang-Bang Play
With :56 seconds left Freeman fired a pass over the middle to wide receiver Tiquan Underwood who had found an open spot 18-yards downfield at the Tampa Bay 38 yard line.
Underwood caught the ball, took two quick steps, and was absolutely crushed by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis coming from the opposite direction. Underwood ducked as Davis led with his shoulder (not helmet) and Davis' shoulder collided with Underwood's helmet, jarring the ball loose and sending Underwood crumpling to the ground.
Davis was clearly not headhunting nor did he leave his feet to launch himself, he simply made a hard - and seemingly legal - hit in the fraction of a second he had to react to the play.
A late flag flew, apparently resulting from Underwood writhing on the ground in pain, not because Davis initially did anything that looked dangerous or against the rules to warrant an immediate penalty.
Two Highly Questionable Calls - On the Same Play
Davis was assessed a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty, a highly questionable call to say the least.
The issue now centered around if Underwood actually caught the pass to determine where the penalty would be assessed. The ruling on the field was a completion
As the officials went to instant replay to review the catch, Fox's Rules Analyst Mike Pereira was brought into the broadcast and said, "I think the pass is incomplete."
During Pereira's comments referee Bill Leavy returned to the field and confirmed the play as a reception, prompting Pereira to add, "I would like it as incomplete because the contact seems almost simultaneous with the second foot hitting the ground, and then he is considered going to the ground and the ball pops out when he is hit. I guess Bill Leavy felt (Underwood) had control long enough to stay with that ruling."
The Incredible Conclusion
If a simple incomplete pass was ruled, Tampa Bay would have faced a third-and-10 from their own 20 with just :45 seconds left and no timeouts.
Instead, thanks to the questionable penalty and the debatable catch as granted by the officials, the Bucs faced a first-and-10 from the Carolina 47 yard line.
Tampa Bay eventually scored a touchdown with :20 seconds left, converted the two-point conversion, then won in overtime.
Make no mistake - the Panthers choked this game away. They had plenty of chances to win and absolutely should have emerged victorious. Even with the two questionable calls on the final drive there is no excuse for Carolina's loss, further escalating an already thoroughly depressing season.
The Week 11 gut-wrenching loss to Tampa Bay was just another kick in the teeth (or two) to a Panthers fan base that is just ready for the pain to end.Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Panthers fan. For more from this author, visit Andrew's archive or check out these articles: