By Ted Fleming
There were many legitimate arguments, both for and against, whether the Panther-Chiefs game should have been canceled or at the very least postponed following Saturday’s tragic events outside Arrowhead Stadium. According to police, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher ended his girlfriend’s life Saturday then drove to Arrowhead Stadium, where he took his own life.
On Sunday, it was the Chiefs’ players and coaches who made the final decision to play. You might say that choice was the first thing that went wrong for the Panthers, because there were others. When the game started they had to tangle with a team that was competing on raw emotions and likely little else.
To some there is a certain number that is considered unlucky and that number came up on the coin toss of all things when the Cats lost it for the 13th consecutive time, giving the Chiefs the ball to open the game. Kansas City would then proceed to march down the field for the team’s first opening series touchdown of the entire season giving, Carolina fans got a hint of what was about to happen–a 27-21 loss denying the Panthers of their first winning streak while dropping them to 3-9.
COACHING: Head coach Ron Rivera committed to the run even though his number one back, Jonathan Stewart, was left back in Charlotte because of problems with both ankles. While the Panthers had their 23rd straight games without a 100-yard rusher, the overall total was very good with 165. The offense was balanced – 22 rushes, 27 passes – and of the 19 first downs, eight were on the ground and the other 11 by air, however, it was just the opposite on defense which would ultimately be the difference in the final score. GRADE: C+
QUARTERBACK: It’s becoming a monotonous stat, although a good one, but Cam Newton did not get picked off for the third straight game. He also threw three perfect passes for touchdowns giving him 14 against just 10 picks. The second-year quarterback led the team in rushing with 78 yards on seven carries for a whopping 11.1 average, but 59 of them came on one series rushing four times for 59 including scampers of 28 and 20 on the Panthers final scoring drive. Newton would finish 15/27, 232 yards and a passer rating of 121.2 and the only blemish on his day was that he did not get the victory. Grade: B+
OFFENSE: One area that cannot be considered a Panthers’ strength – at least this season – is the ground game, but it was a strength despite the loss. DeAngelo Williams, subbing for Jonathan Stewart, had his best game of the year with 67 yards and bested his season average of 3.2 per carry by more than two (5.6). Steve Smith led all receivers with 120 yards on just five catches, but he might have cost his team a time out at 1:15 of the third after he got tangled with Chiefs’ DB Jalil Brown and would not disengage. By the time he did there was a lot of confusion and the Panthers had to burn one. Smith wasn’t the only receiver who added to the loss as Brandon LaFell had a perfect Cam Newton third down pass slip through his hands at the five yard line on the first series of the second half. Instead of being in scoring position Carolina punted. Grade: C-
DEFENSE: Where to begin? Under the circumstances you might have expected the Chiefs to be off their game on offense especially with Brady Quinn under center. The Notre Dame alum had started just 19 times in his six-year NFL career and just three times over the last three seasons and all he did was go 19/23 for 201 yards with 2 TDs and a rating of 132.1 better than his counterpart Cam Newton. The defense had major problems stopping running back Jamal Charles who racked up 127 yards and if that wasn’t enough, KC was a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth down conversions. In short yardage situations, fullback Peyton Hillis was a killer and to add insult to a personal foul, cornerback Josh Thomas was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct with just 6:51 left in the game which pushed the ball into Panthers territory. The Chiefs would capitalize by padding a three point lead with a 52-yard field goal. It was also the last score of the day for either club. Grade: F
NOTES: Linebacker James Anderson was poked in the eye early in the game and had trouble opening it, missing the rest of the first half. After some treatment he would return in the third quarter.
Safety Sherrod Martin injured his right knee last in the second quarter, was carted off and did not return.
The Panthers were swamped in time of possession 37:13 to 22:47.
Linebacker Thomas Davis led the team with 11 tackles while Luke Kuechly had nine plus his first career sack.
Cam Newton was sacked twice and 30 on the season, just five away from his total for his entire rookie season.
Newton had just 12 yards rushing in the first half.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.