NFL box scores track yards gained, time of possession, first downs and penalties, but only the final score gives a calculation of a team’s confidence, heart and sense of destiny, and that’s the only measure Kansas City Chiefs maxed out in 20-17 come-from-behind victory at the Carolina Panthers Sunday.
“This crew here has got some character,” Coach Andy Reid told reporters after the game. “Does that mean you win every game? No, but you’re going to give yourself an opportunity to do that with that kind of determination.”
The Chiefs rattled off 20 unanswered points, 17 in the fourth quarter alone with 11 points off Panthers turnovers, in winning their fifth straight game. The victory moves the team to 7-2 on the season, pulling into a tie for first in the AFC West with the Oakland Raiders.
The Chiefs now hold 17 wins in their last 19 regular season games, and 18 of their last 21 including the playoffs.
Nothing about this win proved easy, however. The Chiefs defense put pressure on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, but failed to slow him down through the air and the ground until late in the game. The Panthers totaled 341 net yards, with Newton accounting for 315 of those yards and both of his team’s first-half touchdowns.
Chiefs safety Eric Berry told reporters after the game the defense had trouble figuring out the Panthers offense in the first half.
“We wanted to tighten everything up in the second half and play together as one unit,” Berry said. “I think that paid off for us in the end.”
Quarterback Alex Smith struggled in the first half, finishing 13-of-19 passing for just 66 yards. Even much of that production cam with under two minutes to play when the Chiefs rallied for a late field goal to cut the team’s deficit to 17-3.
The Chiefs fared no better for much of the third quarter. After a short Kansas City drive stalled at midfield, Carolina embarked on a plodding 20-play, 51-yard drive that milked more than 10 minutes off the clock.
But back-to-back sacks by linebacker Dee Ford and defensive lineman Chris Jones cost Newton 19 yards and knocked Carolina out of field goal range.
A 36-yard field goal from Cairo Santos cut the lead to 17-6, when the Chiefs defense took command in willing the team to victory.
Safety Eric Berry ignited the rally by picking off a Newton pass and returning it 42 yards for a touchdown. A two-gap blitz from safeties Daniel Sorensen and Ron Parker forced Newton to throw while falling backward, creating the opportunity for Berry. The successful two-point conversion pass from Smith to tight end Travis Kelce made it 17-14.
Berry tallied seven solo tackles and two assist along with his interception, turning in one of the best performances in his seven-year career.
“He wills himself like no other,” Reid said of Berry. “You saw it when he defeated cancer. You saw it here. That’s just his mentality. It’s unbelievable.”
The veteran safety deftly weaved his way through traffic for the score, displaying spin moves and tackle-breaking jukes more reminiscent of a running back than a defensive back.
“I think score every time I get the rock,” Berry said. “That’s what we talk about in practice everyday. Every time we get the ball we think touchdown. We try to put our offense in good situations and in good position to get points, but if we can score we’re going to make it happen.”
Another Santos field goal knotted the score at 17, and setup the play of the game by cornerback Marcus Peters.
With just 29 seconds remaining, Newton complete a pass to receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who gashed the Chiefs for 84 yards on seven catches. Peters swiped at the ball, and literally ripped the pigskin from Benjamin’s grasp.
“We stress that so much in practice,” Reid said. “(Defensive coordinator) Bob (Sutton) is a maniac on that, stripping the ball. If you look at it close, he kind of juggled it just a bit and Marcus felt it, and went for the rip there.”
The Chiefs quickly worked the ball into field goal range, setting up Santos for the game-winning 37-yard boot.
Reeling off 17 points in the fourth quarter to win a game on the road require big plays in every element of the game. Reid said players relying upon each other to be there in critical moments makes his team special.
“They’re expecting each other to make plays,” Reid said. “That’s an important ingredient.”
Reid reported just two injuries after the game. Both cornerback Phillip Gaines and linebacker D.J. Alexander left the game with neck injuries. The team listed both questionable to return during the game but neither returned to the field.
The Chiefs bring their five-game winning streak back to Arrowhead Stadium next Sunday for a noon kickoff against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs moved to 4-5 in week 10 with a 36-10 win at the Chicago Bears.