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Panthers still have a chance in NFC South

More from Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game …

Take heart, Panthers fans — your team can still win the NFC South.

For three quarters on Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina look more like themselves — or rather, more like the 2015 team that went to Super Bowl 50, than at any other time this season.

Sure, the Panthers imploded in the final 10 minutes and pulled defeat from the jaws of victory. At 3-6 and in the NFC South cellar, time is running out. But the clock hasn’t run out yet.

Coach Ron Rivera’s Panthers host the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night in the NFL’s weekly prime time match-up. As Rivera said on Sunday, this may be the last chance to make 2016 memorable.

“What we have done is put our backs completely against the wall,” said Rivera. “There is no room for error now. What we have to do is we have to go forward. I have to make sure we do that.”

A win over the Saints, a team that turned a winning extra point against Denver on Sunday into a two-point conversion the other way (a 25-23 Broncos’ win), puts the Panthers into a tie with New Orleans at 4-6. Tampa Bay is 4-5, but not considered by most experts to be a factor for the season’s stretch run.

Atlanta leads the division at 6-4, but 4-6 is just two games back and the Falcons have to come to Charlotte on Christmas Eve. So you see Panthers fans, there is a Santa Claus. Carolina just needs to pick up another game on Atlanta between now and then.

The Falcons still have tough games remaining with the Cardinals, Chiefs and Rams. Plus, one more game with the Saints, who seem to always play good against Atlanta.

Carolina’s defense played well enough to win against the Chiefs. The offense basically gave up the 10 points that got the Panthers beat. For a lot of the game, the Carolina pass rush was all over Chiefs’ QB Alex Smith bottled up the Kansas City rushing attack. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis were again making plays and the inexperienced secondary started to look like it’s growing up.

Kansas City did not score an offensive touchdown on Sunday, but won the game on a defensive score, a two-point conversion and four field goals.

There is still time to get it done and it should start on Thursday night.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, the NFL’s reigning MVP, said Sunday evening that the team still has something left in the tank.

“Whatever our record is, it’s not good, but we have a locker room full of winners, a locker room full of guys full of fight still,” said Newton. “And I know I’m willing to go to battle with these guys and can’t wait until Thursday.”

…..

How can you not admire Kansas City safety Eric Berry?

Not only did Berry lead the Chiefs with nine tackles and two pass breakups, but his across-the-width-of-the-field, 42-yard interception return for a touchdown turned the game around with 10 minutes left.

But it’s what Berry stands for that people admire. Sure he’s a great football player, but the fact that he missed half the 2014 season with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and was fortunate enough to beat cancer and return to the field in time for the 2015 season got him much-deserved attention.

Not that Berry was seeking any attention. He also seems shy when addressing the media, but seems sincere when he says everything is about the team. He also didn’t gloat about the interception of Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton, who is from the same area of Atlanta as Berry.

“It’s more important that we got the win, but more so is that we’re from the same area of town, south Fulton (County) and it’s pretty cool that people back at home looking at this game and seeing that Cam and I came from right there and are now playing at a high level,” said Berry. “Hopefully, both of us inspired the kids in our community to do something positive.

“Cam and I always had battles back in the day, from 7-on-7 camps on, so it’s always good to come out on top,” added Berry, who smiled when he remembered intercepting Newton in those camps and in a regular season high school game. “But it’s good to see Cam doing well and I wish him only the best.”

Berry was the fifth overall pick by the Chiefs in 2010, out of the University of Tennessee. Newton, of course, was the No. 1 pick of the 2011 NFL draft by Carolina, after leading Auburn to a 14-0 record and the national championship.

…..

The Panthers had two unwanted “firsts” on Sunday. Carolina, now a 22-year franchise, had never lost a home game when leading by as much as 17 points. Carolina lost a 21-point lead to Washington on the road in 1999 and an 18-point lead at Buffalo in 2001. … And first the first time, the Panthers had a 20-play drive, one that ate up 10:08 of the third-quarter clock, but didn’t produce any points. Newton was sacked on back-to-back plays to end the possession, forcing a punt.

…..

Finally, it was big thrill for this writer to cover the Chiefs on Sunday, my team since I was a little boy. Sorry, Panthers fans, your franchise didn’t exist back then and I couldn’t settle for the Redskins. Joe Namath and the AFL got my attention as an 8-year-old and by the next year, I went the Chiefs’ way because of Nolan Smith, a very small (5-6, 145 pounds) kick returner that had the nickname “Super Gnat.” He returned a kickoff 106 yards for the Chiefs against Denver and I was hooked.

So it was exciting when I ran into NFL and Chiefs Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier. He was there to watch the game with another Chiefs legendary linebacker, Bobby Bell, who is originally from Shelby. Both were part of the Super Bowl IV champions, Kansas City’s only NFL title.

My good fortune of meeting a boyhood hero was purely accidental. Apparently, in looking for a suite on the 300 level, Willie got off of the elevator on the wrong floor. He actually was asking for directions.

When I told him he was one my heroes and I remember watching him in the Super Bowl in 1970 and now I’m 57 years old, Willie just said: “You’re just a child. I’m 71.”

He sure didn’t look it. Heroes never get old, do they?

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