The Carolina Panthers have been in every game the team has played. Even the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which ended with a 14-point margin, the Panthers (3-5) remained in the game.
There’s plenty of numbers to point to in terms of how the Panthers match up poorly with the Kansas City Chiefs (7-1), one of the best teams in the league and the defending Super Bowl champions.
But up to this point, the Panthers haven’t found a way to stop beating themselves. The last three games have ended with the ball in the offense’s hands with a chance to tie or win the game. In two instances, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw a game-ending interception. In the other, Bridgewater was sacked on third down in New Orleans and then Joey Slye just missed a 65-yard field-goal attempt.
A key to beating good teams is understanding how to win, and the Panthers have shown an inability to be successful consistently in the second half and finish games.
“I think a lot of it has to do with execution. In crucial times, we have to make plays. We have to execute and can’t play hero ball. We just have to take what the defense gives us and continue to do what we’ve been doing throughout the game,” offensive coordinator Joe Brady said. “At the end of the game we don’t have to do anything different. We don’t have to sit there and say this moment is bigger, so we have to perform bigger. We just have to trust the process, continue doing what your doing and take what the defense gives us and good things will happen.”
While the Panthers work on improving themselves, they are heading out to face a dominant Chiefs team. Here’s a breakdown of the matchup:
WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL ...
Running back Christian McCaffrey will be back in the Panthers’ offense.
McCaffrey is expected to make his return to the lineup after missing the past six games due to a high-ankle sprain. He will be a welcome addition to the offense. Running back Mike Davis will still be utilized and has shown in McCaffrey’s absence that he deserves to see the field. Davis has 39 missed tackles forced this year on rushes and receptions, tied with Bears running back David Montgomery for the most in the NFL.
The Chiefs have allowed 142.8 rushing yards per game, fourth-worst in the NFL. They have also given up 69 rushing first downs (third-worst). Seems like a good time to get an All-Pro rusher back.
Bridgewater has been up and down over the last couple of games. He excelled against the Saints two weeks ago, completing 82.1 percent of his passes, but had more issues against the Falcons in Week 8, completing just 65.2 percent of passes.
Keeping Bridgewater upright has also been an issue. He has been sacked at least once in each loss compared to zero times in two of the three wins. He was sacked three times last week against Atlanta. The Panthers are likely going to be without left tackle Russell Okung for a second straight game, which will not help in that area. A rotation involving Greg Little, Trent Scott and Dennis Daley is expected in his place.
The offense will have a tough hill to climb. The Chiefs have limited opponents to a 60.1% completion percentage and average 2.1 sacks per game.
Kansas City has limited opponents to 20 or fewer points in all but one game this year (40 points in a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders). All but one win has come by two-plus scores.
In the past four games, the Panthers have put up 24 points or less in each.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL ...
Hey there, Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs are tied for second in the NFL in points per game with the Seattle Seahawks (31.6) and are fourth in yards per touch (8.1). On the other hand, the Panthers defense has not shown an ability to get off the field.
In the past two games, the Panthers have forced just one punt. The Saints converted 12-of-14 third-down attempts. One positive for the Panthers is that the defense will get a bit of help with cornerback Rasul Douglas back after missing the past two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
“It was hard (being away from the team), man, like I was getting frustrated. I wanted to be out there,” Douglas said. “I even texted Coach Rhule before for the game, like I’ll get on the flight and come out there to New Orleans. But it was really hard, because I want to help the team win. And I just want to be there for these guys.”
The Panthers hope that defensive tackle Zach Kerr (toe), who was missed in the loss to the Falcons, will be available for the game.
The Chiefs offense is stacked with a variety of weapons that will make things difficult for a young Panthers team. Getting pressure on Mahomes has to be a priority, something the Panthers have struggled to do consistently (just eight sacks this season). In Kansas City’s one loss, Mahomes completed just 51.2% of his passes, threw an interception and was sacked three times. The Panthers will need a big game from Brian Burns and a somewhat healthy secondary — still without safety Juston Burris — to come together.
Whether or not hybrid safety Jeremy Chinn (knee) is available will be huge for the defense. The Panthers do not have one player who can replicate what he does, and he has become one of the defense’s most dynamic playmakers.
WHEN THEY KICK ...
There will be a familiar face for the Panthers on the other side of the field.
Harrison Butker was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL draft by the Panthers. He was placed on the team’s practice squad after kicker Graham Gano won the starting job in training camp. The Chiefs quickly signed Butker off the practice squad, and he has become one of the league’s best kickers.
Panthers second-year kicker Joey Slye has made 18-of-21 field-goal attempts (85.7%) and missed two PATs (15 of 17). Two of his misses have come from 50-plus yards, including the 65-yard attempt.
PANTHERS-CHIEFS SCORE PREDICTION
The Panthers will keep it close in the first half with the rushing attack of McCaffrey and Davis, but the Mahomes-led offense at home combined with Carolina’s recent second-half woes will be too much for the Panthers, especially if Chinn and Kerr can’t go.
PANTHERS-CHIEFS INJURY REPORT
Panthers: LT Russell Okung (calf) OUT, Jeremy Chinn (knee) QUESTIONABLE, DT Zach Kerr (toe) QUESTIONABLE, DE Marquis Haynes (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE.
Chiefs: T Mitchell Schwartz (back) OUT, DE Frank Clark (knee) QUESTIONABLE, WR Sammy Watkins (hamstring) OUT.