The Monday night hype was warranted between a pair of Super Bowl contenders, but the Patriots couldn’t muster enough last-minute magic in a 24-20 loss to the Panthers in one of the most intensely fought games of the season.

Quarterback Tom Brady’s final pass was intercepted in the end zone by Robert Lester as time expired, but the Pats were furious about a non-call as Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly had his arms draped around tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was the intended target. Brady shouted at referee Clete Blakeman all the way down the tunnel after the officials decided to pick up a flag thrown by back judge Terrence Miles. As a result, the Pats fell to 7-3 and maintained a two-game lead in the AFC East.

The Patriots were heated, but they refused to fall back on any excuses for the loss.

“We don’t make excuses,” Gronkowski, who scored a third-quarter touchdown, said. “I’m not trying to sit here and make an excuse that he held me at the end of the game. The game is four quarters long. It’s won throughout all four quarters, not just the last play of the game. We’ve just got to keep working hard, keep sticking together and keep on fighting.”

Cam Newton out-Brady’d the Patriots by leading a game-winning touchdown drive and recapturing a lost lead with 59 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Newton helped the Panthers convert three third-down tries on that series before hitting Ted Ginn Jr. for a 25-yard touchdown toss up the left sideline. It was a simple pitch to the left flat on second-and-15, but Ginn had enough room to make a move on cornerback Kyle Arrington, and raced untouched the rest of the way to the end zone for a 24-20 lead.

Brady had been nearly perfect for 59 minutes, completing 25 of his first 29 throws for 244 yards and one touchdown, but he couldn’t rally the Patriots — completing 4-of-11 passes for 52 yards in the last minute.