Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters didn’t mean to sound arrogant. Just declarative.
After all, his strip of Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the waning moments of Sunday’s game – an eventual 20-17 Chiefs win – was arguably the afternoon’s biggest play. And Peters knew that.
“I took it from him,” Peters said. “It was simple.”
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Maybe calling it simple is an exaggeration, but turnovers have become something of a specialty for this Chiefs defense. Last season, the Panthers were the NFL’s premier turnover-creators.This season, they’ve been usurped by their opponents Sunday.
The Chiefs’ propensity for winning the ball back on defense didn’t show itself during the first half. Rather, the Panthers made it a habit of turning near-turnovers into game-breaking plays.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton tested the Chiefs secondary early and often, throwing to tight end Greg Olsen through a tight window on the game’s second play. Carolina’s first drive ended with a field goal from Graham Gano, but only after Peters almost intercepted Newton’s fluttering attempt on third down.
[Eric Berry] was a possessed man. He wasn’t gonna stop. He was gonna score, one way or another.
Those almost-interceptions kept up into the second quarter, but Newton’s margin of error shrank even more dramatically. On one attempt to Ed Dickson, Peters jumped Dickson’s route and dove headfirst to try to catch Newton’s pass. He missed – by a finger’s length – and Dickson instead turned it into a 26-yard gain.
“I should’ve caught the first pick he threw to me,” Peters said, “but I stay patient.”
Newton finally got the better of Peters with 1 minute, 52 seconds left before halftime, when he launched a bomb over the middle of the defense and into the waiting grasp of receiver Devin Funchess. Peters was in coverage, but he trailed the larger Funchess the entire route.
“They caught the touchdown on me and that’s a missed opportunity,” Peters said. “I should’ve made a play on that ball, too.”
After halftime, Peters and the rest of the Chiefs defense found a way to quell Newton and the rest of the Panthers offense.
It started with Eric Berry’s pick-six at the start of the fourth quarter that cut Carolina’s lead to three. Berry snatched a lofted pass, spun twice in a herd of uniforms and reversed across the field all the way to the end zone.
When it’s all said and done, Eric Berry and Marcus Peters stepped up.
Kansas City coach Andy Reid
“He was a possessed man,” Peters said. “He wasn’t gonna stop. He was gonna score, one way or another.”
Then, with the score tied 17-17 and less than a minute to play, Newton had one final chance to assert himself over Peters. He tossed a short pass to Benjamin, who caught it even with Peters in coverage.
Still Peters would not be denied, ripping the ball from Benjamin’s grasp and recovering it himself all at once.
Then, for good measure, he punted the ball way up into the stands. The ensuing 5-yard penalty wasn’t enough to push Kansas City out of field goal range, and Cairo Santos banged home the winning kick from 37 yards out as time expired.
“When it’s all said and done,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid said, “Eric Berry and Marcus Peters stepped up.”
Before the teams retreated to their respective locker rooms, Panthers safety Tre Boston sought out Peters. Yes, his team had lost, but even in defeat he couldn’t ignore that kind of performance.
“I went up to him after the game just to shake his hand because that kid right there makes plays,” Boston said. “From this year, last year being a rookie, the man is phenomenal.”
“That kid is a ball player.”