Saturday, January 20, 2018
Sports

Finishing touch missing from NFC champions

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Panthers talked throughout the offseason about avoiding a Super Bowl hangover.

It might be time to get the aspirin.

The Panthers suffered a colossal meltdown Sunday, blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and losing 20-17 to the Chiefs.

It was the type of game the defending NFC champions consistently closed out a year ago. But now they are in danger of joining a long list of teams with lackluster results the year after losing in the Super Bowl.

The last time a Super Bowl loser returned to the championship game was the 1993 Bills. Carolina had won two in a row going into the weekend, but that momentum is gone now.

"We had the game pretty much won, and we obviously made some critical errors there," TE Greg Olsen said.

WR Kelvin Benjamin's fumble at the Carolina 34 with 20 seconds left was the biggest error. The miscue set up Cairo Santos' winning field goal as time expired.

"You can't even describe it," Benjamin said. "It's tough. It's a tough loss."

But there were several other mistakes:

• The Panthers wasted a 20-play drive in the third quarter when Cam Newton took two sacks, moving Carolina out of field-goal range and prevent the team from possibly making it a three-possession game.

• On the next possession, Newton threw a ball up for grabs while being pressured, resulting in an easy interception for Eric Berry, who returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. Newton said he was "trying to give my guy an opportunity," but there were three Chiefs defenders in the area.

• And then there were the next two drives that resulted in just two first downs and two punts.

Said Olsen: "You can't be up 17-3 at the half and have the ball for it felt like the whole quarter and have the ball at the 20 and not even attempt a field goal. That's why we lost the game — things like that."

PACK IN A RUT: After their 47-25 loss to the Titans, the Packers are below .500 for the first time this late in a season since 2013. "We understand how poorly we performed," coach Mike McCarthy said. "As a team, we're disappointed. We have higher standards than that. We have higher expectations of one another, so that's what we'll tap into and grab onto."

VIKES DOWN ANOTHER: Vikings LT Jake Long is out for the season after injuring his Achilles Long, who was carted off the field, signed with the team last month after Matt Kalil went on injured reserve. Starting RT Andre Smith is also on injured reserve.

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