Chiefs opportunistic defense keeps churning out big plays
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry grew up competing against Cam Newton in the Atlanta area.
On Sunday, Berry got the best of his better-known high school rival, intercepting the reigning league MVP and returning it 42 yards for a touchdown to help the Chiefs to a 20-17 come-from-behind win over Carolina Panthers.
''We always had battles back in the day from 7-on-7 camps to everything,'' Berry said. ''It's good to come out on top.''
The Chiefs defense has been coming out on top all season.
They entered the game leading the league in takeaways with 20 and added two more on Sunday – both of those coming at key moments in the fourth quarter while the offense was struggling.
''You need a little spark there and we got it,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
Berry's fourth career interception return for a touchdown gave the Chiefs the spark they needed, cutting the lead to 17-14, and Marcus Peters stripped Kelvin Benjamin to set up Cairo Santos' winning 37-yard field goal as time expired.
It sounds as if Peters must have been listening to defensive coordinator Bob Sutton in practice.
''He's a manic on that, about stripping the ball,'' Reid said. ''If you look at it close, (Benjamin) kind of juggled it just a bit and Marcus felt it and went for the rip.''
Here are a couple more things to know about the Chiefs and Panthers:
CHIEFS PENALTIES A CONCERN
For the second consecutive week, penalty flags provided some anxious moments for Reid. Last week, it was tight end Travis Kelce, ejected after two unsportsmanlike penalties against Jacksonville. Against Carolina, Reid waited out the officials after Peters punted the ball in celebration following his game-changing strip and fumble recovery.
''He does a lot of great things. He's a gifted guy,'' Reid said. ''But he's not a punter. I'm going to go block the next one.''
The penalty went for 5 yards for delay of game – not 15, for unsportsmanlike conduct. Cairo Santos kicked the game-winning field goal three plays later, from 37 yards.
''You're talking about two emotional guys,'' Reid said of Kelce and Peters. ''I love them, but they're giving me gray hair. I'm too old for this.''
NEWTON BACK ON THE RUN
The struggling NFC champion Panthers unleashed Newton on Sunday, giving him his most extensive action as a runner since his concussion on Oct. 2. Newton carried 12 times for 54 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown against a defense that hadn't allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 4.
Newton's first carry went for 28 yards. Kansas City limited him to 26 more on 11 carries after that. Carolina finished with 99 yards rushing total.
''Coach kept calling my number,'' Newton said. ''We just have to find ways to run the football more, when we have to and when we want to.''
SMITH'S NEW SLANT ON SLIDING
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith missed last week's game against Jacksonville after a couple of hits two weeks earlier against Indianapolis. The team says Smith wasn't concussed, but he said coming into Sunday's game against Carolina that he would either slide earlier – or not at all.
''(Sliding) is still a tool,'' said Smith, who rushed four times for 13 yards against Carolina. ''In traffic, you want to remain a football player. I've been playing a long time. Remain a football player, (keep) your eyes up. It's a better way to get out of those situations. Even if you get the 15-yarder (penalty), you're still defenseless to get teed-off on.''
Carolina could be in the market for a short-term punter after Andy Lee injured his hamstring in the first quarter. The Panthers host New Orleans on Thursday, so they might need to make a move soon.
Kicker Graham Gano punted four times Sunday for a 45.0-yard average. His longest went for 54 yards, although two sailed too long and went for touchbacks.
''Coach (Ron) Rivera is always talking about `next man up,' so I just tried to step in, catch the ball and get it off,'' Gano said.
The Chiefs' five consecutive victories are part of a 17-2 record in their past 19 games. That's the best record in the NFL during that stretch.
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