CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The divisional matchup on Thursday night can't get here soon enough for the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints.
Both NFC South teams suffered heartbreaking losses on bizarre endings Sunday after seemingly having victory within their sights.
The Saints appeared ready to apply the knockout punch to the Super Bowl champion Broncos when Justin Simmons leaped over the long snapper and blocked a go-ahead extra point attempt with 1:28 left, and teammate Will Parks scooped it up and raced 84 yards for a decisive 2-point conversion, giving Denver a stunning 25-23 victory .
About 725 miles north of New Orleans, the Panthers found their own way to lose a game they should have won. They surrendered a 14-point fourth quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs when cornerback Marcus Peters stripped Kelvin Benjamin of the football with 20 seconds left as the Panthers were attempting to drive for the go-ahead score, setting up Cairo Santos' winning field goal as time expired.
"That's one plus," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "We don't have to dwell on this for very long and we can start getting focused on the Saints."
The Saints (4-4) could have pulled within a game of division-leading Atlanta (6-3), but wasted an opportunity. The Panthers (3-6) had a chance to move into a tie with the Saints and Buccaneers for second place in the division, but instead remain three games back of the Falcons with seven games remaining.
"What we have done is put our backs completely against the wall," Rivera said. "There is no room for error now. What we have to do now is we have to go forward."
So do the Saints.
"It's a blessing so we can get this bad taste out of our mouth," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said of playing on a short week.
Added quarterback Drew Brees after the loss: "All you want to do is get back on the field as fast as you can. Obviously, we've got four days here so it's a quick turnaround. We'll have a good game plan together, but we've got to lose this one and move on to the next one."
The Saints beat the Panthers 41-38 last month when Will Lutz kicked a 52-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining to end a wild game in which Drew Brees and Cam Newton combined for 787 yards passing and six touchdowns.
"There's no need to panic," Newton said Sunday. "We have a couple key losses (from the Falcons and Saints), so that's our optimism. When you look at it, whatever our record is, it's not good. But yet we have a locker room full of winners and a locker room full of guys that's full of fight still. I know I am willing to go to battle with those guys. I can't wait until Thursday."
Rivera said he's expecting his team's best, despite the heartbreaking loss.
He has also reminded his team several times that they won the division two years ago with a 7-8-1 record.
"There's always going to be excuses, but there's not always going to be opportunities," Rivera said. "So we'd better start taking advantage of them. That's the important thing."
Rivera he likes that the Panthers don't have travel on a short week giving them a little more preparation time.
"The truth of the matter is we're at home, so it's not going to be as hard on us as it will be the Saints," Rivera said.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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Posted on Tue, November 15, 2016
by Steve Reed, AP sports writer