CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Kansas City Chiefs had no offensive touchdowns, and their defense was on the field for much of the afternoon.
No big deal. They found another way to win — again.
Marcus Peters stripped Kelvin Benjamin with 20 seconds left, Cairo Santos kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired, and the Chiefs overcame a 17-point deficit to top the Carolina Panthers 20-17 on Sunday.
The game was tied when Benjamin caught a 14-yard pass from Cam Newton at his own 34. Peters ripped the ball from his arms and returned it to the Carolina 24.
Santos’ fourth field goal of the day split the uprights, lifting the Chiefs to their fifth straight victory and 17th win in their last 19 games.
"This group has some character," Kansas City coach Andy Reid said. "It doesn’t mean you win every game but when you play like this you give yourself an opportunity to win."
The Chiefs also put together an impressive rally in a 33-27 victory against San Diego on Sept. 11, erasing a 21-point deficit.
Eric Berry provided a big spark, returning an interception 42 yards for a touchdown. Newton made a huge mistake on the play, simply throwing the ball up while under pressure.
Alex Smith threw for 178 yards and Spencer Ware ran for 61 yards for the Chiefs, who managed just 256 yards overall. But Kansas City’s defense came up with big plays when needed.
"Things don’t go your way sometimes," Berry said. "You have to make them go your way. I knew there would be an opportunity somewhere. We had to make it count."
Berry’s big play helped the Chiefs (7-2) move into a tie for first place in the AFC West with the idle Oakland Raiders.
Newton threw for 261 yards and a touchdown and ran for 54 yards and a score for the Panthers (3-6).
The game turned late in the third quarter when Chris Jones sacked Newton for a 12-yard loss on third-and-18 at the Kansas City 28, taking the Panthers out of field goal range. Instead of making it a three-possession game, the Panthers were forced to punt.
"We can’t take back-to-back sacks," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "We can’t have two negatives plays like that. You do that and you don’t give yourselves a chance to win the football game."
The Chiefs kicked a field goal to make it 17-6 before Berry’s interception return and Smith’s pass to Travis Kelce for the conversion. Santos’ third field goal tied it with 4:25 left.
"We didn’t keep the aggression as a whole," Newton said. "It starts with me as the leader of the offense to realize that every play counts. … It’s keeping the foot on the pedal and knowing that we have to finish."
The Panthers had won two straight and were looking to get back in the playoff hunt, but remain three games behind the division-leading Atlanta Falcons and two games behind Tampa Bay and New Orleans in the NFC South.
"We have put our backs completely and utterly up against the wall now. There is no room for error," Rivera said.
Newton established franchise records for pass completions and touchdowns rushing.
Newton passed Jake Delhomme for the most completions in franchise history with 1,581 with a strike to Greg Olsen in the first quarter and DeAngelo Williams with his 47th career TD rushing.
ODD STAT OF THE DAY
The Panthers had a 20-play drive in the third quarter that took more than 10 minutes off the clock, but came away with no points.
WHAT WAS THAT
Smith threw a pass late in the fourth quarter that was batted up in the air. He caught the ball, which is legal, but then attempted to throw the ball a second time. At that point flags were flying everywhere and the Chiefs were penalized 5 yards for an illegal second forward pass.
Chiefs: Cornerback Phillip Gaines left with a neck injury in the third quarter.
Panthers: Kicker Graham Gano was forced to handle punting duties in the first quarter after Andy Lee injured his hamstring. Gano’s first punt since 2010 went for 42 yards but he struggled on trying to pin the Chiefs inside the 20.
Chiefs: Return home to host another NFC South foe in Tampa Bay next Sunday.
Panthers: The Panthers have a quick turnaround, hosting the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.