The feisty Panthers dominated the hugely disappointing Denver Broncos 23-10 in a game that wasn’t really competitive. Carolina improved to 4-8 while the Broncos fell to 3-8. Here are the key stats behind the Panthers impressive victory:
2 yards - The Panthers first two possessions resulted in seven plays and two punts. On their third possession they faced another potential three-and-out with fourth-and-1 at their own 38. It was then Carolina dialed up a risky fake punt with a direct snap to upback Sean Chandler who ran up the middle for two yards and a first down. The Panthers went on to methodically drive the ball down the field and score a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead with :30 seconds left in the first quarter.
1 muffed punt - Raheem Blackshear had a nice 21-yard punt return early in the first quarter. But with the Panthers leading 7-0 in the second quarter he muffed a punt which the Broncos recovered at the Carolina 27. Denver turned Blackshear’s gift into a field goal to narrow the Panthers lead to 7-3.
2 sacks - Brian Burns lived in the Broncos backfield with two sacks, a tackle for loss, and three quarterback hits. Burns’ most impactful play took place with 4:02 left in the second quarter with the Panthers nursing a 10-3 lead. Denver had driven down to the Carolina 23 and were poised to put points on the board. But Brian Burns got around the right tackle and knocked the ball out of Russel Wilson’s hand as he wound up to throw. Yetur Gross-Matos recovered the fumble for a momentum-shifting turnover.
178 rush yards - D’Onta Foreman (24 carries, 113 yards) and Chuba Hubbard (17 carries, 65 yards) chewed up the Broncos on the ground. The tandem combined for 41 carries for 178 yards, good enough for 4.3 yards per carry. It was Foreman’s fourth 100-plus yard game in his last six outings. Hubbard’s 65 yards was the third highest of his career. With great blocking and solid running the Panthers consistently kept quarterback Sam Darnold in “and short” situations and allowed him to just manage the game.
1 kick return fumble recovery - I’ll be honest, before this game I had no idea T.J. Carrie was on the Panthers roster. The nine-year veteran signed with Carolina’s practice squad about two weeks ago after Donte Jackson was lost for the season. He was called up just before the Denver game. Carrie made an immediate impact in his first action with the Panthers. Early in the fourth quarter the Panthers kicked a field goal to take a 20-3 lead. On the ensuing kickoff Carrie stripped the returner and recovered the fumble, setting up a Carolina field goal for a pretty much insurmountable 23-3 lead. It was a backbreaking play for the Broncos and helped seal the Panthers victory.
The overall summary
This convincing 13-point win was a combination of a delightfully competent and well-prepared Panthers team taking on a really bad Broncos squad. While it’s discouraging to be a Panthers fan right now, at least there’s hope for a brighter future if the team can nail down the quarterback position. I’d rather endure this scenario than what Denver’s going through after giving up a ton of draft capital to trade for Wilson, sign him to a monster $245-million extension…and then suck. Oof. That’s rough.
Believe it or not, but the 4-8 Panthers are still in the thick of the hunt for the lead of the NFC South. They’re currently tied with the Saints and are within striking distance of the 5-7 Falcons and 5-6 Buccaneers. Carolina’s next three games are against the Seahawks (with the Panthers coming off a bye week), Steelers, and Lions. It wouldn’t be shocking for the Panthers to go 2-1 over that stretch and be sitting at 6-9 and still mathematically eligible to win the NFC South. That’s crazy, but still possible.
The Panthers are looking competent under Steve Wilks. It will be interesting to see how the season plays out from here.