Bob Leverone
November 13, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Panthers talked throughout the offseason about avoiding a Super Bowl hangover.

It might be time to get the aspirin.

The Panthers suffered a colossal meltdown on Sunday, blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and losing 20-17 to the Kansas City Chiefs.

It was a game that the defending NFC champion Panthers (3-6) likely would have closed out a year ago. But now they are in danger of joining a long list of teams with lackluster results the year after losing in the Super Bowl.

The last time a Super Bowl losing team returned to the championship game was the 1993 Buffalo Bills. Carolina had won two in a row coming into the weekend, but that momentum is gone now.

''We had the game pretty much won and we obviously made some critical errors there,'' tight end Greg Olsen said.

Kelvin Benjamin's fumble at the Carolina 34-yard line with 20 seconds left was the biggest error. The miscue set up Cairo Santos's winning field goal as time expired.

''You can't even describe it,'' Benjamin said. ''It's tough. It's a tough loss.''

But Olsen said Benjamin's fumble isn't what cost the Panthers the game.

There were several other mistakes:

-The Panthers wasted a 20-play drive in the third quarter when Cam Newton took a pair of sacks , moving Carolina out of field-goal range and prevent the team from possibly making it a three-possession game.

-On the next possession, Newton threw a ball up for grabs while being pressured, resulting in an easy interception for Eric Berry, who returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. Newton said he was ''trying to give my guy an opportunity,'' but there were three Chiefs defenders in the area.

-And then there were the next two drives that resulted in just two first downs and two punts.

''We have to find ways as an offense to muster more points,'' Newton said.

Said Olsen: ''You can't be up 17-3 at the half and have the ball for it felt like the whole quarter and have the ball at the 20 and not even attempt a field goal. That's why we lost the game - things like that.''

Carolina outplayed Kansas City for the better part of three quarters.

The Panthers outgained the Chiefs 342 to 256. They held the ball for 11 minutes longer. Their defense didn't allow a touchdown and limited Alex Smith to 178 yards passing.

But it didn't matter.

''It's a matter of protecting the ball late in the game,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of the team's two fourth-quarter turnovers. ''You can't do that. If you do that you don't give yourselves a chance to win.''

In the locker room after the game, the Panthers tried to take solace in the fact that division foes Atlanta and New Orleans both lost on Sunday. But the Panthers are still three games behind the Falcons and two behind the Saints and Buccaneers with seven games left.

''We have put our backs completely and utterly up against the wall now,'' Rivera said. ''There is no room for error.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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