Broncos buck Panthers
Managing to keep Peyton Manning from totally ripping them apart, the Carolina Panthers inflicted plenty of damage on themselves Sunday in a 36-14 loss to Denver.
Up 7-0 early, the Panthers imploded through the combination of giving up Trindon Holliday’s 76-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter and quarterback Cam Newton giving the Broncos (6-3) nine points on a pass interception returned for a touchdown and a safety.
That helped sink the Panthers to 2-7 even though the Broncos offense managed just two touchdowns plus two field goals by Matt Prater and fumbled the ball away twice as they made coach John Fox a winner in his first return here since his firing after the 2010 season.
“People talk as if the offense, defense and special teams are different teams,” Manning said. “We’re all one team. Anyone who wants to score a touchdown, I’m in favor of it. We have some things we have to fix.”
The Panthers have plenty to fix after taking a 7-0 lead on Newton’s 4-yard pass to Greg Olsen in the first quarter. After that, they had trouble reaching Denver territory while the outcome was still in doubt, allowed seven sacks and were unable to take care of a credible defensive effort that included holding Denver to 3 of 13 conversions on third down.
The Panthers weren’t able to take advantage in part because they were 0 for 12 on third downs.
“This is an embarrassing loss,” Panthers tackle Jordan Gross said. “The defense played their tails off. They gave us a chance to win and we didn’t do anything on offense. It was as bad of a day as I can remember.”
Manning completed 27 of 28 passes for 301 yards but managed just one touchdown, a 10-yard pass to Brandon Stokley with 1:32 left in the first quarter that was the 420th of Manning’s career, tying him with Dan Marino for second time all-time.
The score was still tied when Holliday broke down the sideline in front of the Panthers’ bench and scored, although it appeared he might have stepped out of bounds before reaching the end zone.
“The biggest disappointment was the return for the touchdown,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “At that point we had played pretty well defensively.”
Referee Al Reveron told pool reporter Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer that the play was reviewed and confirmed.
“It was still kind of nip and tuck at that point,” Fox said, “Every once in a while it gets in a game, and obviously with an explosive play in the game, it changes the momentum at that point.”
The momentum swung entirely to the Broncos when Newton let go of a desperation throw as he was being tackled and it was intercepted by Tony Carter, who took it 40 yards to the end zone for a 24-7 Denver lead. The turnover came one play after the ball was stripped from Manning by Charles Johnson and recovered by Greg Hardy.
“I have to be smarter than that,” Newton said. “I saw Brandon (LaFell) flash across and didn’t realize the defender was there. I need to be smart enough to know to throw it away and that second-and-10 is better than an interception.”
Newton gave up the safety when he was sacked on a third-and-19 at the Carolina 2, a play after he was sacked for a 12-yard loss.
“I was going through my read and was expecting to have an outlet or check down pass,” Newton said. “When I looked and no one was out there, I either had to run or throw it away. That’s very bad on my part.”
The Panthers scored again on Newton’s 5-yard fourth-quarter pass to Olsen, who was the featured receiver on both touchdown drives. Newton’s usual primary target, Steve Smith, was not on the field during the second scoring drive. Instead, he was sitting in a chair with a towel over his head.
Rivera said Smith was not in late in the game by design.
“We just wanted to get Steve off the field and give some of our younger guys some opportunities,” Rivera said. “We could have kept Steve out there, We have some young guys who we wanted to five a little game action.
It has nothing to do with Steve’s performance.”