With 11 seconds left on Sunday Night Football, Tom Brady took the 11th snap of a drive that saw the Patriots march down to the Seahawks' 1-yard line.
His All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was lined up one-on-one against safety Kam Chancellor. It was a familiar look — after all, Gronk has six 1-yard touchdown catches and 19 of 5 or fewer yards in his career. But this time, New England faced a fourth-and-goal and was down, 31-24, at home to Seattle.
The call was a fade route. Though Gronkowski said he wasn't trying to initiate contact, there was contact on both sides. Chancellor was forced backward before falling on his right side. Gronkowski couldn't get free to have a chance at the ball.
The pass fell incomplete, Gronkowski looked for a pass interference flag that never came, and the Patriots suffered their second loss of the season.
"I mean, it didn't get called. I mean, it is what it is," said Gronkowski, who finished with three catches for 56 yards. "If it's not PI to the refs, then it's not PI to the refs. Play is what it is. Can't really change it."
"I didn't see it. I mean, there's always a lot of contact with that team," Brady said. "Sometimes you get the call, sometimes you don't. Certainly, it looks like it came down to one play, but it probably was a lot of plays in this game that we could've done a better job of and they're a good team."
"It was a really competitive play," coach Bill Belichick said. "I thought the game was well officiated. They did a good job. Let the players play. They called some things they had to call."
Gronkowski said he was trying to get a release outside, but that he got up on Chancellor's toes "a little too much."
"He was playing off me a little bit, pretty far, farther than usual. Usually you don't see that. It was a fade, so had to go up to him, make a little move," Gronkowski said. "I wasn't trying to initiate contact actually, it just happened. Just went up to him, just wanted to get on top of his toes, that's what you're taught. Get on top of the toes, make a little move and release outside, so I just got up on his toes a little too much, obviously. I wasn't trying to make contact, I was just trying to make a move and get outside and catch a fade ball."
Chancellor said he saw the play during film study and snuffed it out.
"I kind of knew he was going to a back shoulder fade or a jump ball," he said. "We kind of got engaged and it just went from there."
Coach Pete Carroll said the play was the last one the Seahawks practiced last week.
"It was a big moment in practice because Kam was battling because he wanted to prove that he could do it," Carroll said. "So, somehow that just works out. But Marcus Lucas was the guy he went against to give us the look and Kam slammed the ball and went crazy in practice, you know, just because it was that moment. And interestingly, it came down to that same thing."
The play call on fourth down came after the Patriots tried to balance bleeding the clock with scoring the touchdown they needed. A 26-yard completion to Gronkowski with 1:29 remaining set up the Patriots at the 2-yard line. Brady tried a sneak for a 1-yard gain before LeGarrette Blount was stopped short of breaking the end zone plane.
Then on third-and, 1 Brady fumbled the snap in a miscommunication with second-year center David Andrews that set the Patriots back to the 2.
"Yeah that was just my fault on the ball handling," Brady said. "I was going left and David thought I was going straight and it was just my mistake."
A 12-men-on-the-field penalty by Seattle gave New England a fourth-and-goal from the 1.
But a play and connection that has seemed automatic for the Patriots didn't come through.
As a result, Gronkowski was asked about how his size — 6 feet 6 inches and 265 pounds — may affect officials' judgment of contact, a topic he addressed last season. Gronkowski wasn't keen on talking about specifics after the game, though he acknowledged it is a tough question.
"I mean, I've had problems in the past with that. Last year, a couple times this year. But I'm not here to make excuses to say that was a PI," he said.
"We just lost a game, I wanna give credit to the Seahawks. They played a good game. It was a well-fought 60 minutes game on both sides of the ball, but I'm not trying to get into that discussion right now."
Video: Ben Volin’s postgame analysis
Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter @RachelGBowers.