In my best Allen Iverson voice:  “We’re talking about a flag?  A flag?...A flag.  Not Cam Newton, not Stevan Ridley’s fumble, not Ted Ginn Jr.  A flag.  A flag?”

 

In what was the most exciting Monday Night Football game of the 2013 season so far, the majority of the discussion has been over the flag that was picked up at the end of the 4th quarter. 

While the discussion is fun and worthwhile, there is much more that contributed to the outcome of the game. Tom Brady almost added another story to his phenomenal career.  And whether or not you want to admit it, Brady is the reason for all of the discussion about the flag at the end of the game in Charlotte on Monday night.

First off, let’s give Brady the credit that he deserves.  He’s already cemented his name in Canton and very few would bet against him on any given Sunday.  Among other things, he’s known for game winning drives, like the one he almost put together last night. 

He’s put virtual “no name” players into the spotlight and made them successful; be honest, you didn’t know who Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson were before this season unless you followed them in college.  Brady has set records, won Super Bowls, and just when you think he’s done the most amazing thing he one-ups himself.  But without Brady we’re talking about other things about last night’s game, not a penalty flag.

 

Here are some other points we would be talking about if someone else had been under center and Brady was at home watching the game:

Stevan Ridley should take Brady out for dinner just as a thank you.  Early in the second quarter Ridley fumbled at the Carolina 13.  In what would have probably been at least three points and more likely a touchdown, Ridley gave the ball to the Panthers.  All things equal the rest of the game, this likely would have allowed the Patriots to put the same drive together at the end of the 4th quarter only needing a field goal to win the game.  Instead, the fumble eventually forced the Patriots to drive for the end zone with 0:59 to play.  But no one’s talking about Ridley’s fumble today.

Speaking of the Patriots last drive, Brady wasn’t anything spectacular and actually he was pretty bad.  With less than a minute to play he consistently threw wide, short, or long to his receivers who were many times in one-on-one matchups and could have made the catch had it been catchable.  A nice throw into triple coverage to Rob Gronkowski and another pass interference call on the drive were the two big plays that even allowed the Pats to have a chance at the end of the game.   

Was there anyone playing quarterback for the Carolina Panthers?  Cam -something I think.  Listening to talk radio and SportsCenter today you would think that the Panthers didn’t have a quarterback.  But in fact, Cam Newton added a little more to his own legacy on Monday night.  Gone, at least for the latter part of this season, is the Newton who was trying to carry the whole team on his back. 

Instead, last night we saw Cam Newton, the game manager, as we have been more accustomed to seeing lately.  Not only did he put his own game winning drive together, he didn’t buckle when it looked like the Panthers had run out of luck.  Newton consistently converted on third downs and might be the only quarterback in the league to be able to make the first down where he scrambled for essentially 75+ yards on a third and seven.  Newton is figuring out how to run an NFL offense.  When he gets it all together he’s going to be extremely dangerous.

Anyone who isn’t a Panthers fan probably hates Steve Smith.  On TV he comes across as arrogant and cocky.  But last night proved that Smith is a seasoned veteran who can still play.  Aside from his actual catches and yards on Monday night, Smith had a game plan and he executed it perfectly from the start.  It was to simply get in Aqib Talib’s head and he did.  Smith started the game making a nice catch on a high throw and then baited Talib into an argument.  Later near the goal line, Smith did the same thing.  By the end of the game Talib was on the sideline.  Talib is a great player, but he showed last night that he’s got a little more to learn before he’s on Steve Smith’s level. 

 

Those are all great story lines to what was a great game, but back to the Tom Brady Effect.  Here’s how much of an influence Brady has in THE game, not just last night’s game.

Don’t you wish you could make time just appear out of nowhere.  With time ticking off the clock the Patriots ran a play that ended with the time clock at 0:04.  Miraculously (do you sense the sarcasm?) the referee’s put two seconds back on the clock.  While two seconds may not seem like that big of a deal, it actually is.  With only four seconds the Pats may have opted to go for the end zone thinking they would have time for just one more play.  But with six seconds the Pats had more options.  Not only in football, but in most other sports, the referee’s will go to a monitor to check and be sure of the correct amount of time that should be on the clock.  Not last night.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some fans didn’t even notice that time was added.  It’s debatable to argue if time would have been added if anyone other than Brady had been on the field. 

I bet Bill Belichick feels a little insulted.  At the end of the game after the flag had been picked up and the referees were running off the field, Brady ran after them trying to get an explanation.  This was similar to what Belichick did last year in the Pats loss to the Ravens.  The only difference so far: Belichick was fined $50,000.  Brady’s fine for last night: $0.  

Here’s a question: If that had been Cam Newton would he have gotten the same response from the national audience as Brady did?  Would his brash questioning of the referee have been looked at as him being the leader of his team looking for an answer or the whiny young hotshot that he’s been labeled with for the better part of his career?  Brady should probably lay low for a few days.  If for no other reason, the NFL might decide to fine him just so they can pay the FCC the fine they’re going to have to pay for Brady’s f-bomb that made it on the broadcast at the end of the game. 

And finally, the flag.  Let’s just get straight to the point.  Brady is one of the only, if not the only, quarterbacks in the league who gets a flag thrown in his favor on that play (Peyton Manning and Drew Brees you come in at a close second and third).  If anyone besides Brady makes that throw and another defender intercepts it as Panthers safety Robert Lester did, that flag stays firmly tucked in the waist of the official with no thought of throwing it. 

All day we’ve heard the arguments, “Well if Luck Kuechly hadn’t been holding him he might have been able to get back to the ball.”  Or, “If Brady had time to make a good throw…”.  Or “If Lester hadn’t been there and the ball had hit the ground just in front of Gronkowski it would have been called”.  How about, “If Gronkowski had “played” the penalty a little better then the refs wouldn’t have picked it up.”  But the bottom line is Brady didn’t have time to make a good throw because the Panthers defensive line did their job, Gronkowski didn’t “play” the penalty better, probably because he’s better than that, and Lester was there doing what he was supposed to do and helping out Kuechly.  None of those arguments matter and neither does the flag, but because Brady is who is, the discussion goes on.

Most importantly here’s why we know that it wasn’t a penalty after all: because the Carolina Panthers have long been the red headed step child of the NFL. They’ve been the team that wants to come out and play with the big boys, the team who talks a big game, but can never quite stand behind their words.  It’s also because Tom Brady IS Tom Brady.  He’s awesome.  He tells you he’s going to lead a game winning drive down the field and does it and then does it again the next weekend or throws for 400+ yards or both, whichever he decides he wants to do.  The reason it truly wasn’t a penalty at the end of the game last night is because the referee’s had all these reasons to keep the flag on the ground, knowing that no one, but the inferior Panther fans and Carolina media would make any noise about it, and they couldn’t do it because they knew that when they went back to look at the play there was no penalty to call.