KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Heading into Sunday's game at Arrowhead Stadium, the Panthers braced for an incomparable emotional setting as best they could following the deaths of Kansas City linebacker Javon Belcher and his girlfriend on Saturday.
A day later, the Panthers and Chiefs took the field, and it was Kansas City who emerged with a 27-21 victory.
"We were not unprepared for the emotional aspect," wide receiver Steve Smith said. "We underperformed."
Ryan Succop's 52-yard field goal gave the Chiefs a six-point lead with 4:54 remaining.
On the ensuing possession, the Panthers went three-and-out – their first three-and-out of the game. Mike Tolbert lost a yard on a short reception and Cam Newton picked up seven on a scramble before pressure forced a hurried throw and an incomplete check down pass on third down.
"They got some pressure on Cam, and we just didn't execute," wide receiver Louis Murphy said.
Kansas City then took over on its own 30-yard line with 3:47 left. The Panthers used their final two timeouts after a pair of short runs by running back Jamaal Charles, setting up third-and-6.
Quarterback Brady Quinn escaped a collapsing pocket and gained just enough for the first down.
"We have to be able to get him down in that critical situation," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said.
Instead, the Chiefs churned valuable time of the clock before a punt pinned the Panthers at their own 14-yard line with 30 seconds left.
Smith hauled in a 53-yard catch at the Chiefs' 8-yard line but there was no time left.
"I knew this was going to be an emotional game for the Kansas City Chiefs as a whole and that they really wanted to come out with a win," Newton said. "For us to mature as a team we have to be able to come into a hostile environment and produce."
Each offense started the game with a six-play scoring drive.
Kansas City running back Peyton Hillis found the end zone on a 2-yard run, and Carolina quickly countered when Newton connected with tight end Greg Olsen for a 47-yard touchdown.
A 42-yard field goal from Succop gave the Chiefs a 10-7 lead, but the Panthers carried their momentum on offense into the second quarter. An 11-play drive was culminated by a 23-yard touchdown catch by Smith in the left corner of the end zone.
The Chiefs then proceeded to methodically drive downfield, using all of the 7:25 that remained in the first half.
After calling a timeout with two seconds left, Kansas City faced fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on the 13th play of the drive. Quinn executed a play-action fake and located tight end Tony Moeaki open in the back of the end zone to give the Chiefs a 17-14 advantage at the half.
Carolina threatened to regain the lead on its opening possession of the third quarter, but a dropped pass on what would have been a big gain forced a punt.
On third-and-6 at midfield, Newton stood tall in the face of a blitz and lofted a deep pass down the middle for wide receiver Brandon LaFell, but the ball fell through his hands at the Kansas City 8-yard line.
"Disappointing," Rivera said. "It was a zero blitz. Cam made a good check to it. Good protection, he had time and he laid it out there. That's a play that Brandon will make the majority of the time."
Kansas City responded with yet another meticulous scoring drive.
The Chiefs moved 87 yards in 17 plays, converting two fourth-and-1 opportunities in the process. Wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin extended the lead to 24-14 with a 3-yard touchdown catch with 2:56 remaining in the third quarter.
Murphy cut into the lead with an 8-yard touchdown grab at the start of the fourth quarter, but that proved to be the only score the Panthers produced in the second half.
"We just didn't execute," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "It was 100 percent us players not making plays. That's what it boils down to."