The Chiefs’ starting offense is still oh-fer for the preseason.
Playing without Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, who did not make the trip because of a bruised foot, the starters failed to score a touchdown in Sunday night’s 28-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.
That extended the streak to three quarters, covering eight possessions — three in the first quarter in last week’s win over Cincinnati and five on Sunday against Carolina, which led the NFL in fewest touchdowns allowed last year with 21.
The Chiefs starters managed two field goals, a 54-yarder by Ryan Succop and a 44-yarder by rookie Cairo Santos, for their only points of the first half.
“We’ve got to punch it in when we get in the red zone,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I’m all for getting our kickers some reps, but I’m more into scoring touchdowns down there, whether it’s the preseason or not the preseason.”
The Chiefs didn’t turn the ball over in the first half, but they made just about every other kind of mistake.
They were called for seven penalties for 93 yards in the first half — four on three different offensive linemen and a tight end, two on cornerbacks (an illegal-contact penalty was declined because the ball was caught) and one on special teams (two flags were thrown on the play). The Chiefs also allowed two critical sacks to Carolina, which led the NFL in sacks last season.
“That’s two areas that are young,” Reid said of the offensive linemen and cornerbacks. “We’re going to still test it. We’re going to throw the football … they’ve got to learn. And if you’re in the secondary, you have to be able to cover people. They were throwing the football … and we’re getting experience. I expect to learn from our mistakes. That’s what the preseason is for.”
In all, the Chiefs were called for 13 penalties for 131 yards; Carolina was flagged four times for 32 yards.
“It’s ridiculous,” Reid said. “Even if you’re counting by 5s (in penalty yards), 13 is too many. And there were some that were greater than 5 (yards).”
Carolina led 14-6 at halftime on a pair of runs through the middle of the Chiefs defense by Jonathan Stewart, the first from 2 yards as he bounced off linebacker Derrick Johnson, and the second from 3 yards when no one laid a hand on him.
The Chiefs’ first-team defense held Carolina to three-and-outs in the Panthers’ first three possessions. In fact, the closest Carolina got to a first down in the three possessions was third and 4.
But the Chiefs fell apart in the second quarter, The key play on Carolina’s first touchdown was a pass-interference penalty for 32 yards against cornerback Ron Parker, who was defending against wide receiver Jason Avant. The penalty moved the ball to the Chiefs’ 6, setting up Stewart’s first touchdown.
On the Chiefs’ ensuing possession, a false start on right tackle Donald Stephenson turned third and 3 at the Kansas City 14 into a third and 8 from the 9. Quarterback Alex Smith picked up the first down with a 9-yard scramble, but a dropped pass by Dwayne Bowe on a play that would have produced a first down was followed by a 9-yard sack by Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who blew through the middle of the line, forcing a punt.
A holding penalty against left tackle Eric Fisher, who was trying to block rookie Kony Ealy, a second-round draft pick from Missouri, followed by guard Jeff Allen allowing a sack by Star Lotulelei, put the offense in a third-and-29 hole, and Reid didn’t have a good play for that down and distance.
“There was a lot of self-inflicted stuff,” Smith said. “Every drive you can point to a penalty or a sack that caused us to fail. They’re a good defense … one of the top defenses in the league … at their place. It felt like we were able to move the ball but couldn’t finish down there.”
Smith wouldn’t use the absence of Charles, who scored a league-leading 19 touchdowns last year, for the inability to score a touchdown.
“I don’t know if there’s any other guy in the league like him,” Smith said. “You can’t really replace him. But it’s the NFL … that’s every team. A guy goes down, the next guy has to step up and we’ve got to go. We all have to take up the slack as a group.”
The Chiefs’ backups rallied in the third quarter. Quarterback Chase Daniel hit a wide-open Frankie Hammond Jr. down the sideline for 33 yards, and with a penalty for roughing the passer, the Chiefs were at the 7.
The drive bogged down there, as Daniel one-hopped a pass near the goal line to running back Cyrus Gray on second and goal, and a pass to De’Anthony Thomas lost 4 yards. Reid opted for a 25-yard field goal by Succop that made it 14-9 rather than go for it on fourth down.
After an 8-yard Carolina punt set up the Chiefs at the Panthers 43, rookie quarterback Aaron Murray feathered his first NFL pass on first down to tight end Travis Kelce, who was behind three defenders and scored his second touchdown in two weeks for a 16-14 lead.
Carolina regained the lead with 3:58 left in the third quarter on backup quarterback Derek Anderson’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Brenton Bersin that made it 21-16.
Murray then threw his first NFL interception when his pass intended for tight end Demetrius Harris was picked off by linebacker A.J. Klein, who returned it 29 yards to the Chiefs 8. That set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Fozzy Whitaker for a 28-16 lead.
The Chiefs had taken a 3-0 lead on Succop’s 54-yard field goal on their first offensive drive of the game. Succop, from nearby Hickory, N.C., grew up as a Carolina Panthers fan and was kicking in front of friends and family for the first time in the stadium where he attended games as a youngster.
The field goal matched Succop’s career long of 54 yards against Minnesota in 2011, and it couldn’t come at a better time for Succop, who missed much of practice last week because of a groin injury and is embroiled in a competition with rookie Santos for the kicking job.
Knile Davis started in place of Charles and opened the game with an 11-yard run, followed by Smith hitting tight end Anthony Fasano for 16 yards.
A screen to Davis was wiped out because of a holding penalty called against rookie guard Zach Fulton, and a pass by Smith intended for a wide-open Fasano was deflected by Carolina’s all-pro linebacker Kuechly.
Smith threw two more passes to Davis for 16 yards, setting up Succop’s field goal.
Santos got his first chance for a field goal on the first play of the second quarter. After standing out on the field waiting for play to resume, he nailed a 44-yarder for a 6-0 lead.