In a game that was hyped up as a revenge opportunity for the Panthers, the good guys were in control for most of the game. The Broncos, led by surprise QB Trevor Siemien, were able to claw their way back into the game in the fourth quarter, and the Panthers were not able to pull out the last minute victory.
The Denver Broncos and Siemien came out and marched down the field. Siemien squirted the ball all over the field and the Panthers defense did not look like the top 10 unit of last season. Sean McDermott’s bend-don’t-break defense finally stiffened up and forced a fumble from rookie RB Devontae Booker. The Panthers took over and slowly made their way the opposite direction, though they were forced to use two timeouts in the first quarter. That drive ended with a beautiful strike to Kelvin Benjamin for a 14-yard touchdown. It was great to see Benji back and balling out.
An unsportsmanlike taunting penalty on Trai Turner pushed the ensuing kickoff back to the Panthers’ own 20 yard line. K Graham Gano was still able to kick the ball through the thin Denver air and still managed a touchback. The second Denver drive started, and ended, much like the first. The Broncos moved the ball well, but a tipped pass by DT Star Lotulelei ended up in the arms of LB Thomas Davis for another forced turnover. At this point the Panthers were riding high with a 7-0 lead and the ball.
P Andy Lee ended up booting a 59=yard punt into the endzone after the Panthers went three and out. The Broncos again moved the ball well and ended their drive with FB Andy Janovich taking his first career rush right past CB Bene Benwikere for a 28-yard touchdown. The Panthers took the ensuing kickoff and conducted an offensive clinic on an 18-play drive that ate up over nine minutes of clock. Benjamin and TE Greg Olsen came up big on a few third down plays to keep the drive alive, and QB Cam Newton ran it in from a couple yards out. With time running out in the half, the Panthers forced a three and out and got the ball back with no timeouts. Despite that, Cam and company marched right into field goal range and Graham Gano gave the Panthers a 17-7 halftime lead.
The Panthers deferred after winning the toss, so they got the ball first in the second half. The drive stalled rather quickly and Andy Lee punted once again. The ensuing drive started off fairly well for the Broncos, but we saw one of those underthrows Trevor Siemien is wont to make. He severely underthrew WR Emanuel Sanders and Benwikere was able to come away with the easy interception.
The Panthers had a three and out and Andy Lee absolutely destroyed a 76-yard punt to flip the field, along with a holding call against the Broncos. The Broncos and Panthers then exchanged punts, and the Broncos began to move the football again late in the third quarter. The Panthers led at this point 17-7.
The Broncos started off a dominant fourth quarter by finishing their drive off with a long screen pass to RB CJ Anderson for a touchdown. The Panthers then began to succomb to some bad luck (and somewhat questionable calls and no-calls). A Cam Newton pass was tipped by DB Chris Harris and intercepted by him as well. The Broncos made the most of the turnover and punched it in the endzone after a successful 4th and short conversion inside the 5 yard line. Anderson finished off the drive with a one yard plunge and the Broncos took the lead.
The Panthers offense looked good on their next possession and were able to march right into field goal range. A third and five pass to WR Devin Funchess was broken up by Supervillain CB Aqib Talib, and Gano put the following field goal through the uprights to cut the lead to one. With under five minutes to go, the Broncos attempted a couple passes, but the Panthers were able to force a three and out and get the ball back with about three minutes to go.
The Panthers last hurrah started off poorly and went backwards after a false start and a sack. That’s when Von Miller went all “Super Bowl MVP” on Mike Remmers (who had been much better up until that point), forcing a 4th and 21 just after the two minute warning. A hands to the face call against Chris Harris gave the Panthers a first down after they failed to convert. The Panthers drove the ball past midfield and Cam Newton took an absolute shot to the helmet, which may result in a fine for the Broncos defender. A clearly banged-up Cam Newton was able to convert a third down play to put the Panthers in Gano’s territory. Graham Gano lined up for a 50-yard game-winning field goal attempt and he shanked it wide left.
The Panthers definitely looked shaky against the unproven Trevor Siemien. It is always concerning when a once dominant defense struggles against a less-than-stellar offense. But I digress. The Panthers left plays on the field and did not get plays into the huddle fast enough. Also, they did not get help from the referees. Let me be clear, the Panthers should have won the game and I am not blaming the referees for the Panthers’ collapse. The interesting choices by the referees did not help, however. Cam Newton took a few shots to the head and nothing was called. I guess the silver lining is we won’t have to hear about the Panthers being the worst undefeated team ever now.