How pleasant it seemed, at first, the slogging, chugalong drive by the Carolina Panthers during the third quarter that lasted 20 plays and 10 minutes, 8 seconds.
It was a bouquet, if you will, of perfumed performance. Six first downs. Four of five on third-down conversions. A converted fourth-and-1 by quarterback Cam Newton. Excellent field position.
Except there was a bee in it.
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On second down and at the Kansas City 21, Newton was sacked on back-to-back snaps, for a total loss of 19 yards.
First, Dee Ford chewed through the Panthers’ offensive line to take down Newton for a loss of 7.
Then, Chris Jones took him down for an ugly 12-yard loss.
The Panthers were out of field goal range and settled for a punt.
At the time, it was a laughable punctuation mark – the first drive of 20 or more plays that ended in a punt since Pro Football Reference began its database in 1998.
“Well, at least they took time off the clock,” the more positive-minded might have mused. The Panthers still led by 14 points.
Then Carolina got stung.
From there, Kansas City mustered just enough offense (with a huge pick-six assist from its defense) to squeeze past Carolina 20-17 Sunday.
“You can’t take back to back sacks,” coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s the bottom line there, and that’s disappointing. We had every opportunity to score. We grounded out, ate up the clock and put ourselves in position, and then we have two negative plays.”
After the game, Newton shouldered the blame, despite the collapse of the pocket.
“Anytime you have long drives like that, you don’t want to void it with no points,” he said. “I just have to find ways to get the ball out of my hands. That’s what has to happen. … We just needed more points.”
Tight end Greg Olsen said settling for a punt on that drive was the reason for the loss.
“We didn’t lose the game because we fumbled the ball at the end,” he said. “The fact that we were in that position is why we lost the game. You can’t be up 17-3 at half, come out of halftime and have the ball and go on what felt like the whole quarter drive, have the ball on the 20-yard line and then not even attempt a field goal.
“That’s why we lost the game. Things like that. Just a shame it had to end that way. We shouldn’t have even been in that position.”
The chipping away at Kansas City’s defense, bit by bit, with 3- and 4-yard slants and outs and punching runs was aimed at wearing down the Chiefs’ prolific defense. And take time off the clock.
Kansas City safety Eric Berry wasn’t deterred. When Newton had the ball back in his hands for the first time since the long drive, Berry intercepted him, his childhood friend off the field and rival on it, and danced away from the Panthers and into the end zone. A two-point conversion cut the Carolina lead to three.
After a Kansas City field goal tied the score, Carolina ran out of chances. On first down and 10, with less than 30 seconds to play, the Chiefs stripped receiver Kelvin Benjamin of the ball.
They set up the winning kick with a run, and trickled out the clock in the process, too.
As it turned out, a 29-second Kansas City drive put this one out of reach.