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Panthers 31 Chiefs 33: Five winners from the Panthers’ close but no cigar loss to the defending champs

The Panthers lost to the Chiefs in Week 9, but they held their own against the defending champs and almost pulled off a surprising upset.

The Panthers gave their all against the Chiefs yesterday, but it wasn’t quite enough as they fell short in their upset bid in an inspiring 33-31 loss. Usually after the Panthers lose there are both winners and losers to discuss, but because they played well above their expectations yesterday I’m going to (mostly) skip the negativity this week and focus on the winners who deserve some recognition.


Teddy Bridgewater

Bridgewater had another solid game for the Panthers yesterday. He was 36-of-49 for 310 yards passing, had 19 yards on two carries and produced three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) with zero turnovers. He was only sacked twice and he didn’t make a lot of mistakes. The main reason he’s included this week, however, is because of one play on fourth-and-14 where he took off on a 15-yard run and sacrificed himself to pick up a first down. You don’t see many quarterbacks willing to do that, and Teddy won me over completely after that play. Some folks may still need to see more from him, but I’m no longer a part of that group. Win or lose, Teddy B is my quarterback now.

Christian McCaffrey

The Panthers got a huge boost with the Return of the Mack (sorry for putting the song in your head). McCaffrey totaled 151 yards from scrimmage (69 rushing, 82 receiving) and two touchdowns. The offense looked much better with him on the field (which is normally what happens when you have your best player out there) and he looked like he didn’t miss a beat despite being out since Week 2 with a high ankle sprain. He didn’t waste any time finding the end zone either since he scored on the team’s opening drive (on fourth-and-3 from the KC 9-yard line, no less). I could go on and on about what C-Mac brings to this team, but you already know, so I’ll just sum it up and say that I’m glad he’s back out there.

Curtis Samuel

Samuel had another outstanding game where he hauled in nine catches (on nine targets) for 105 yards, including an amazing catch for a huge 28-yard gain. He also picked up 13 yards on three carries. Oh, and he also scored a touchdown in the second quarter. The Panthers are going to have a tough decision to make on what to do with Samuel after the season is over. He’s definitely worth keeping around, but the key is going to be how much salary cap space he’ll take up, because the team has other needs to fill that may take priority. If it were up to me the Panthers would find a way to keep him for a few more years, but unfortunately it’s not up to me. Hopefully the people in charge of making those decisions agree with me though, because I’d hate to see Samuel finally break out for another team to reap all the benefits.

Sam Franklin

Franklin had a bit of a coming out party yesterday. He was tied for the team lead in tackles (seven total, five solo) and added a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hit. He made one critical communication error that led to a touchdown, but otherwise he played well given the circumstances. Everyone thought Franklin was only signed as an undrafted free agent because he played for Temple, but perhaps the Panthers have found a hidden gem after all. It’s way too early to make any judgments on his potential, but if we see a few more games like yesterday we’ll have to have a serious conversation about where Franklin fits in Carolina’s defense.

Matt Rhule

It takes a lot of guts to coach a game like Rhule did yesterday. He knew going in that he was clearly outmatched by the defending champs, and he used that knowledge to craft a game plan that was basically ‘throw every single thing you’ve got at them and see what happens’, and it worked to near perfection.

The Panthers had no business losing this game by two points. The Chiefs are more than two points better than the Panthers. Hell, they’re arguably the best team in the league, and they’re the defending Super Bowl champs. We were also playing in their house, which is a notoriously difficult place to play (to be fair, COVID-19 somewhat negated the home field advantage a bit since they couldn’t have a full capacity crowd).

Matt Rhule went into this game as an underdog and threw everything he had at Andy Reid. The Panthers went for it on fourth-and-3 from the Chiefs 9-yard line instead of kicking the field goal because Rhule knew that taking three points won’t win against the Chiefs. The result of that play was a Christian McCaffrey 9-yard touchdown reception and a 7-0 lead.

The Panthers faked a punt on fourth-and-7 from their own 45 yard line. The result of that play was a 28-yard pass from Joseph Charlton to Brandon Zylstra for a first down that eventually led to a Curtis Samuel 14-yard touchdown reception and a 14-3 lead.

The Panthers went for it on fourth-and-14 from their own 45-yard line while down two points with 13:09 left in the fourth quarter. The result of that play was a Teddy Bridgewater 15-yard run where he dove over what seemed like the entire Chiefs defense to pick up a critical first down.

The Panthers tried two (yes, two) onside kicks yesterday. Both failed, but they get bonus points for having the guts to try to catch the Chiefs off guard — and risk giving them a short field if they failed — when they didn’t have to. The Panthers faced a do-or-die fourth-and-10 at the Chiefs 49-yard line with 0:02 left in the game. Joey Slye attempted a 67-yard game-winning field goal that had the distance but sailed wide right in the Kansas City wind.

I’ve never been more excited to see the Panthers lose a game, and I’ve never been more happy to finally see them do something they’ve never really done before: They went for it. One of the complaints we’ve had as Panthers fans has always been that we’re far too conservative to ever really break through, and it’s always been true.

Everyone knows that the Panthers never would have done those things under John Fox or Ron Rivera, and everyone knows that a John Fox or Ron Rivera Panthers team would probably have lost that game by at least 24 points, if not more. But this team is different. Matt Rhule is bringing another dimension to Carolina, and it’s one that we’ve needed for far too long: He’s bringing a mindset of ‘screw it, let’s see what happens’ and I for one couldn’t be happier that we’re approaching games this way.

The wins will come later, but for now I’ll take solace in the fact that we’re not giving up, no matter how much the odds are stacked against us. We finally have some fight, and we’re going to be a tough out for every team we face for the rest of this season. It feels so good to be able to write that, y’all. It really does.

Honorable mentions

The only negative thing I have to say about this game is that Travis Kelce should not have been left wide open on what seemed like every single play the Chiefs ran. He ended up with 10 catches (on 12 targets) for 159 yards. The only positive (if you can call it that) is that he didn’t score any touchdowns, but the rest of the Chiefs offense took care of that part.

It’s hard to really complain about defensive breakdowns against the Chiefs because they do that to everyone, and Patrick Mahomes is a certified badass, but it was still disappointing to see Kelce repeatedly picking up huge chunks of yards with little opposition. On the other hand, the Panthers held the lead until there was 4:42 left in the third quarter, so I suppose I can’t really complain too much.

I thought Brian Burns played well despite not really showing up on the score sheet. He led the team in quarterback hits (three) and picked up two tackles and a tackle for loss. Derrick Brown also played well despite an untimely offsides penalty. He tallied five tackles (three solo) 0.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hit.

This is the best I’ve felt after a loss in a very long time. I thought going into this game that the Chiefs would obliterate us and make this game unwatchable by the end of the third quarter, and the Panthers came out and completely blew me away with their game plan. We may not win three more games this year, but if they play every game as hard as they played yesterday you won’t see many more complaints from me, no matter what our final win-loss record says.

What about you, Panthers fans? Who stood out to you yesterday? Share your thoughts with us!