Home Cooked

K.C. makes it look easy to win at Big E, and Niners are next There's no way to sanitize a description of the Carolina Panthers' performance in their 35-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Ericsson Stadium. It stunk.

The Chiefs' 35 points were the most Carolina has allowed in a game in its three-year history. Adding insult to that odoriferous milestone is the fact that Kansas City chose not to score from the Panthers 2-yard line in the final seconds.

The defeat dropped the Panthers to 2-2 overall and 0-2 at home, where they were 9-0 last season.

``Just because you hope to have the mystique of home-field advantage, it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen,'' defensive end Gerald Williams said. ``The mystique is what you make it. We made that mystique last year. If we keep playing the way we played today, it's never going to materialize.''

It had better -- soon.

In one week, the 3-1 San Francisco 49ers will come to town for a ``Monday Night Football'' showdown that figures to have a major bearing on the NFC West Division race.

``If we play like we did today, San Francisco will score 100 points on us,'' said tight end Wesley Walls, who was held without a reception until late in the fourth quarter.

Just as coach Dom Capers likes to talk about total team wins, this was a total team loss. None of the team's three major areas was without blame.

On offense, quarterback Kerry Collins was dreadful, throwing four interceptions to match his career high and turning the ball over a fifth time on a fumble. It didn't help that his receivers dropped some of his best-thrown passes.

The usually stout defense messed up a play call and allowed a short screen pass to grow into a 55-yard touchdown for Chiefs fullback Kimble Anders.

And there was nothing special about Carolina's special teams, which botched a fake field goal due to miscommunication and committed a holding penalty to nullify a kickoff return for a touchdown by Michael Bates.

``It was a tough day,'' Capers said. ``We aren't proud of the way we played. That's not the way the Carolina Panthers play.''

Or is it?

The Panthers' two losses have come against the only playoff contenders they've faced so far: Washington (2-1) and Kansas City (3-1). Their wins have come against two of the weakest teams in the league: Atlanta (0-4) and San Diego (1-3).

Linebacker Sam Mills admitted he was concerned that the Panthers have yet to beat a top-notch opponent.

``We won last week (at San Diego), but that team wasn't as good as K.C.,'' Mills said. ``That's why this was one I was really looking forward to having.

``We need to win these games. We need to have a chance to win them at the end, but we didn't have a chance today. It was a bad feeling looking up and seeing `35' on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. That's a lot of points.''

The game started with so much promise.

After the Panthers defense held the Chiefs on three plays and forced a punt, the Carolina offense drove to Kansas City's 10-yard line.

But on second-and-7 from the 10, Collins tried to force a pass to a heavily guarded Walls in the end zone and Kansas City's James Hasty intercepted.

That play foreshadowed the rest of the day. Collins, facing a heavy rush from Kansas City's blitz, never looked comfortable passing, and Walls never seemed able to get open.

With the Panthers missing injured wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, the Chiefs were able to concentrate on stopping Walls.

The game remained scoreless until the final minute of the first quarter, when Kansas City sprung a surprise score on the Panthers. Facing third-and-7 at their 45, the Chiefs caught Carolina in a blitz and quarterback Elvis Grbac flipped a screen pass to his left to Anders. There wasn't a defender in sight. Anders ran past Toi Cook, who slipped, and eluded cornerback Tyrone Poole on his way to the end zone and a 7-0 lead.

Carolina defenders admitted there was miscommunication on the field before the play began. Some heard the play call, while others didn't.

``That was a defensive bust,'' linebacker Lamar Lathon said. ``It was a mental error on the part of the entire defense. It's up to all of us to relay the call and make sure everyone knows it.

``But it was definitely a key play in the game. They hadn't gotten anything before that. If we had gotten the call, we would have had a guy over on him and they wouldn't have scored.''

A missed 54-yard field goal by Carolina's John Kasay midway through the second quarter gave the Chiefs good field position at their 44. They responded with a five-play touchdown drive, topped off by passes of 27 and 18 yards from Grbac to Andre Rison, the latter for the score and a 14-0 lead.

Fred Lane's 8-yard touchdown run -- the first of his pro career -- with 3:59 remaining in the first half brought Carolina to within 14-7 at halftime.

The Panthers believed they could rally in the second half, but it never happened.

The decisive sequence of the game probably came midway through the third quarter.

Poole stopped a Kansas City scoring drive and appeared to give the Panthers much-needed momentum when he intercepted a Grbac pass in the end zone.

But Collins turned the ball back over on the next play, trying to force another pass to Walls only to have it intercepted by linebacker Donnie Edwards. Four plays later, Marcus Allen scored on a 1-yard run that essentially did in the Panthers.

Collins criticized himself for the interception, calling it ``a bonehead play.''

``That was a big one,'' he said. ``That guy stepped right in front of me. I should have tucked it down and ran it. But I was just trying to make something happen out of nothing. It was a bad decision on my part.

``Something like that can take the wind out of your sails. But we've got a lot of fight in us and I think we played hard down to the end. But that kind of broke our backs.''

With the 49ers up next, the Panthers' challenge is to get better in a hurry.

Williams said the disgust they feel about how they played against the Chiefs could help them against San Francisco.

``To be very honest with you, I can't hold my head high leaving here today,'' Williams said. ``The only way you can get your head back up is to come out fighting. It's as if you're a prize fighter and you've been backed into a corner. You don't want to ever have this feeling ever again.''

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