MNF’s return to North Carolina tonight provides marquee matchup between Patriots and Panthers, ‘homecoming’ for 10 crew members

Mike TIrico interviewing New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Chris Wondolowski / ESPN)
In preparation for covering the New England at Carolina game tonight, Monday Night Football play-by-play commentator Mike Tirico (L) interviewed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Chris Wondolowski/ESPN)

NFL Week 11 concludes tonight with a marquee primetime matchup on ESPN’s Monday Night Football as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots face Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN).

The two franchises met 10 seasons ago in Super Bowl XXXVIII when Adam Vinatieri’s 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining gave the Patriots a thrilling 32-29 victory.

The Patriots are no stranger to Monday nights. One of the league’s elite teams, they have won five straight MNF games and 11 of their last 12, while Brady is 13-4 as a starter with 41 touchdown passes and just 14 interceptions in those outings.

No wonder the two-time NFL MVP remarked this week how special these games are to him: “Monday Night Football is always pretty cool, especially when you play a really good team . . . It’s a fun night. It’s November. You feel the weather is changing out there. This is when the most important games are. You want to be playing in the biggest moments.”

Jon Gruden is interviewed by Michele Tafoya. (Travis Bell/ESPN Images)
Five years ago at Carolina, current MNF analyst Jon Gruden (R) was the Tampa Bay Bucs head coach. (Travis Bell/ESPN Images)

For Carolina, this is the first home MNF game in five seasons and just the 11th Monday night game ever for the Panthers franchise (only the Houston Texans have played fewer MNF games: seven.) Ironically, MNF analyst Jon Gruden was on the visiting sideline in that last home MNF game in December 2008, coaching the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers (pictured with former MNF sideline reporter Michele Tafoya).

Fast forward to 2013, and Gruden believes this year’s Panthers are Super Bowl contenders despite being under the national radar.

ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown (6:30 p.m.) pregame coverage will feature a pair of Mike Tirico interviews – one with Brady (pictured above) and another with Panthers defensive leader Luke Kuechly. Rick Reilly’s weekly feature will look at the Bill Belichick family coaching tree, which includes his daughter Amanda, the new interim head coach of women’s lacrosse at Wesleyan University.

Finally, tonight is not only a home game for the Panthers, but also for 10 members of the traveling MNF crew who call the state of North Carolina home. From MNF rules consultant and former NFL official Gerry Austin to timeout producer Dick Shafter to video team lead and 24-year MNF veteran Leo Boucher, this area has become quite a TV tech hub. Here is a rundown of others:

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Editor’s Note: For more on tonight’s game, listen to the Monday Night Football Preview podcast as Tirico interviews Gruden, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme. Also, Tirico discusses his MNF role, this week’s game and more in this Charlotte Business Journal interview.

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