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MacLeod: Patriots comeback stalled on non-call by the officials

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

It is often hard to feel sympathy for the mercurial Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots, who often carries on as if he invented the game of football.

But it was hard not to feel sorry for Belichick, at least just a little bit, when Monday Night Football's otherwise marvelous game ended in confusion with a controversial non-call in the end zone.

The Carolina Panthers showed they are deserving of being included in any talk of potential Super Bowl partners with quarterback Cam Newton starring in a 24-20 win over the Patriots in Charlotte, N.C.

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Newton tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with less than a minute left to put the Panthers in front, leaving an opening for Tom Brady to do what he does best – operating in the final minute of a game with his team needing a touchdown to win.

Brady did as expected, driving the Patriots to the Carolina 18 with three seconds left when he tried for the end zone as the game ended.

That is where it got strange.

As Carolina safety Robert Lester intercepted the pass, an official threw a flag apparently signaling an obvious pass interference penalty as linebacker Luke Kuechly had receiver Rob Gronkowski wrapped up tightly in a bear hug.

Brady and the Patriots would get another chance from the one.

But wait, after a conference in the end zone, the flag was picked up and the zebras ruled a non-call and the Panthers were suddenly celebrating their sixth straight victory.

To the eyes of some, the referees "screwed" the Patriots.

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Both Belichick and Brady later moaned that they never received an explanation for why the flag was picked up.

But as referee Clete Blakeman later explained to a pool reporter, it was determined that the ball was underthrown and uncatcheable, making the mugging of Gronkowski a moot point.

Rookie helps Penguins top the Ducks

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma felt his team needed some kick-starting after scoring one goal in four of its previous five games.

So Bylsma juggled the makeup of his forward lines and the result was a 3-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks where rookie Brian Gibbons, playing in his first game, scored a goal and an assist.

In Winnipeg it was being described as "the shootout that wouldn't die" as the Calgary Flames outlasted the Jets 5-4 to win for the first time since Nov. 3.

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In Edmonton, the Oilers are hoping that free-spirited goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov will help to make a difference with the struggling NHL club.

Perceived as a bit of a flake who can be disruptive in the dressing room, Bryzgalov was signed to a one-year contract and went through his first practice.

To date, Bryzgalov has yet to offer any profound thoughts on the universe as he famously did in the HBO specials a few years back when he was still a member in good standing with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Bryant back to work in Los Angeles

Kobe Bryant has resumed practicing with the Los Angeles Lakers after a long recovery from an Achilles tendon injury but his return to the team is still a bit of a mystery.

The Lakers don't play again until Friday when they are in Oakland to play Golden State but it is believed that Bryan't debut might come on Sunday when L.A. plays at home against Sacramento.

The Globe's Robert MacLeod curates the best of sports on the web most weekday mornings

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