The Panthers weren’t treating the season opener in Denver against the Broncos like a rematch of Super Bowl 50. They weren’t looking for redemption, or for a way to put the brutal 24-10 loss behind them. What the two teams gave us, though, was a much better matchup than the Super Bowl as Denver won, 21-20.
In the first half, it was clear that regardless of what the Panthers had said leading up to this game, they were on a mission. Cam Newton was playing inspired football, connecting with Kelvin Benjamin on a 14-yard touchdown and then adding a 2-yard rushing score of his own.
The Panthers defense was aggressive, disrupting Trevor Siemian, who had never thrown a pass in a regular season NFL game prior to Thursday night. Siemian struggled a bit in the first half, completing 8 of 12 passes for 92 yards and one interception.
The defending Super Bowl champions trailed, 17-7, heading into the half, but this game was really a tale of two halves.
The Broncos defense, however, proved that it's still dominant despite departures like Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson. In the third quarter, DeMarcus Ware landed the first sack of the season on Newton, and the quarterback appeared to be injured on the play. He returned to the field for Carolina’s next offensive series, but he didn’t look the same afterward.
Denver continued to come after Newton, sacking him three times in the second half. Right tackle Mike Remmers was more effective than he was against the Broncos last February, but still struggled in the second half as the defense continued to bring relentless pressure.
With three minutes remaining in the game, the Broncos led by one point, a lead that would hold until the end of the game despite a sustained drive from the Panthers that was kept alive by an illegal use of hands penalty against Denver’s Chris Harris on fourth-and-21.
The Panthers got into position for Graham Gano to attempt a 50-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining. The kick went wide, and the Broncos secured the win with a final score of 21-20.
The outcome is the same, with the Panthers losing in heartbreaking fashion, but truly, this is the Super Bowl we all wish we would have had last February.
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