The Carolina Panthers solidified their playoff ambitions with a solid victory over the AFC West front runner Denver Broncos. Though the Panther offense was all the rage the last two games this week it was the defense that stepped up and held the Broncos high-powered offense in check. The defense forced two turnovers and logged three sacks against an offensive line that had only given up 7 on the season.
It was clear from the beginning the Bronco defense was determined to keep the Panther running game in check, actually starting LB Wesley Woodyard at SS. Take away the run and all that means is QB Jake Delhomme goes to work throwing the ball to the tune of 17 for 26 for 253 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Delhomme rarely lights up fantasy scores but in the end he just gets the job done. Of course WR Steve Smith led the aerial attack with 9 receptions, 165 yards and 1 TD. Smith set the tone early, making hard receptions look easy and just tormenting the Broncos secondary. Once the Broncos got behind the Panthers finally got the running game going, finishing with 150 yards rushing.
Even though the offense put up 30 points this was the defenses day. They shut down the Broncos running game early and once the Panthers established a lead they say back and played the pass exclusively. Players with notable performances:
- DE Charles Johnson was a constant presence with 3 tackles, 1 sack and almost got his 1st career INT (but dropped it)
- FS Charles Godfrey also almost had an INT, logged 4 tackles and a forced fumble that lead to a FG right before the half
- DE Tyler Brayton had a good day with 5 tackles and a sack and was constantly in the Broncos backfield
- Though RB DeAngelo Williams was held to 88 yards rushing his 56 yard TD scamper in the 3rd quarter was the dagger in the Broncos heart
- WR Musin Muhammad had his best day in several weeks for 4 catches for 70 yards. It was good to hear the home crowd elicit the ‘Mooosssee" cheer a few times
- RB Jonathan Stewart saw his most extensive work of the season with 16 carries for 52 yards and a TD.
- CB Chris Gamble out up 7 tackles and a juggling exercise that resulted in an INT. The Panther secondary did a good job of keeping the Broncos WR's in front of them and playing tight coverage on the timing patterns the Broncos seemed to favor.
Unfortunately the Panthers suffered a couple potentially key injuries in the 2nd half of the game. DT Maake Kemoeatu left the game with a tweaked ankle and never returned. RG Keydrick Vincent, the only offensive lineman to play every game this season, left with a groin pull. It's too early to tell the extent of the injuries but we can only hope both players won't miss next weeks game.
It's not often I nail my predictions but I think I came pretty close this time. Of the 3 Key Match-ups I listed in the intro to my Game Day Open Thread all three were on the money. Steve Smith had a big day (no big stretch there I realize), CB Ken Lucas did a good job on WR Brandon Marshall and Broncos RT Ryan Harris gave up all three sacks. Yeah me!
Panthers Are Now Super Bowl Contenders
Given this thorough dismantling of the playoff bound Broncos the Panthers set the table for a showdown with the Giants. Whether the Giants beat the Cowboys tonight doesn't really matter though a Cowboys victory would take the pressure off the Panthers last game. Either way a Panther victory means the Panthers are now the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
RB Jonathan Stewart Runs over a Bronco