Panthers fall 27-21 to grieving Chiefs

LaFell’s bumble, defensive stumbles too much for Carolina

jperson@charlotteobserver.comDecember 2, 2012 

— It was an emotional day for the Kansas City Chiefs.

It was a bad day for the Carolina Panthers. Another one.

The Panthers’ defense committed ill-timed penalties and made journeyman quarterback Brady Quinn look like Joe Montana, falling 27-21 on Sunday in front of an Arrowhead Stadium crowd still struggling to come to grips with the events of the day before.

The Chiefs held a moment of silence before the game to recognize domestic violence victims, 28 hours after Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, then shot himself outside the team’s facility.

There were questions whether the game would go on as scheduled. But after head coach Romeo Crennel talked with the team captains, the Chiefs decided to play.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera told his players they would have to try to match the Chiefs’ energy level. Intensity wasn’t the issue for the Panthers; lack of focus was.

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell dropped a certain touchdown pass in the second half. And the defense self-destructed with five of the Panthers’ seven penalties, including three on a Kansas City touchdown drive at the end of the first half that gave the Chiefs the lead for good.

“We were not unprepared for the emotional aspect,” wideout Steve Smith said. “I think we underperformed and we allowed a team that was with a heavy burden, a heavy heart, we allowed them to hang around. And they had some key plays and they finished us off, and we weren’t able to answer.”

The loss dropped the Panthers to 3-9 and put them within a game of Kansas City and Jacksonville (both 2-10) for the worst record in the league and the possibility of the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Rivera said a couple weeks ago that he expected Panthers owner Jerry Richardson to allow him to finish out the season. Despite losing to the NFL’s worst team, Rivera believes that is still the case.

“I’ll keep soldiering and keep working until whatever happens, happens,” Rivera said.

Both teams scored on their first two possessions. Cam Newton tossed touchdowns passes to tight end Greg Olsen and Smith to give the Panthers a 14-10 lead.

But the Chiefs re-claimed the lead with a 13-play, 80-yard drive before the first half ended. The Panthers looked like they had forced a three-and-out after stopping Cyrus Gray short of the first-down marker on third-and-2.

But defensive end Greg Hardy was flagged for illegal use of hands to keep the drive going. A few plays later, defensive end Charles Johnson had a neutral zone infraction that turned a third-and-6 into a more manageable third-and-1.

The Chiefs made that first down, picked up another 5 yards on an encroachment penalty by defensive tackle Andre Neblett, and ended the half with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Quinn to tight end Tony Moeaki that put them up 17-14.

The Panthers blew a great opportunity to seize momentum at the start of the second half. On third-and-6 from the Carolina 48, Newton hung in against a blitz and threw deep to LaFell, who had gotten behind cornerback Javier Arenas.

The ball hit LaFell in the hands and fell to the grass.

“Disappointing,” Rivera said. “It was a blitz and Cam made a good check to it, with good protection. He laid it out there and unfortunately Brandon missed it. That’s a play that Brandon will make a majority of the time. I’d take him in any situation.”

LaFell later left with a sprained foot and did not return. He was receiving treatment on the foot after the game and was not available for comment.

The Panthers defense didn’t cover LaFell’s mistake. On the ensuing possession, the Chiefs drove 87 yards in 17 plays, converting a pair of fourth downs and taking nearly 10 minutes off the clock.

Quinn capped it with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jon Baldwin, who beat rookie cornerback Josh Norman on a slant.

Quinn, who had unremarkable stints with Cleveland and Denver, came into the game with a passer rating of 52. But his 19-of-23 line gave him a rating of 132.1 – just off his career-best of 133.1.

His two touchdown passes were his first in three years, when he was with the Browns.

“We’ve seen much better quarterbacks, no disrespect to Quinn. He’s a good quarterback, too,” cornerback Josh Thomas said. “We didn’t play sound defense. We didn’t play disciplined, didn’t play consistently. Those kinds of things in the NFL, any quarterback will make you pay.”

The Panthers sacked Quinn only once – for a loss of 4 yards. His 6-yard scramble on third down late in the fourth quarter allowed Kansas City to take three more minutes off the clock and all but dashed any Carolina comeback hopes.

And on a day when their focus understandably could have been elsewhere, the Chiefs had no turnovers and one penalty – a delay of game with 2:45 remaining.

“I knew that they were prepared from a football standpoint because we put in the game plan all during the week. I didn’t know what our mental state would be,” Crennel said. “That’s one thing you can’t predict, so you just have to go out and play. Those guys pulled together, and were able to pull it off.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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