Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the hope of moving quickly into field goal range and concerns about the punting situation convinced coaches to keep passing Sunday, a decision that ultimately led to Kelvin Benjamin’s fate-sealing fumble in the Chiefs’ 20-17 victory.
Having blown a 17-point lead, the Panthers took over at their 20 with 29 seconds left and the score tied at 17. Carolina was out of timeouts, but Kansas City coach Andy Reid had all three of his left.
Rivera said the Chiefs’ soft coverage also played a role in offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s decision to have Cam Newton throw rather than call a few runs and play for overtime.
“The thought (of trying to run out the clock) was there, but the circumstances were pretty good,” Rivera said Monday. “Because one thing that we do know is that they tend to play soft in those type of situations. They don’t want to give up a big play. They want to try to keep it in front of you. If you can get a couple big chunk plays and then who knows? Somebody makes a play and then you’re in field goal range.”
Benjamin ran a slant – a route he’d had success on all game, albeit one that would take him away from the sideline and the chance to stop the clock by getting out of bounds.
Benjamin caught Newton’s pass 9 yards downfield, then made a move toward the sideline. Three Kansas City defenders converged on him, including cornerback Marcus Peters, who ripped the ball from Benjamin to set up Cairo Santos’ game-winning field goal.
Benjamin’s fumble prompted plenty of second-guessing from critics.
But Rivera said he wasn’t thrilled about the prospects of letting emergency punter Graham Gano punt again to Tyreek Hill, who returned an earlier punt 21 yards to set up a field goal.
“The thing that concerned me is he had three timeouts and our kicker had to be our punter,” Rivera said. “They have a pretty good return game. We know that. We saw them one time break one. So being backed up, the thought was if we can get ourselves in position, who knows?”