The NFL season started just how it ended. The Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers, this time by a score of 21-20. As a Panthers fan, I’m not surprised by the loss. The road team rarely wins on Super Bowl Party Opening Night. It was going to be extra tough for Carolina flying out west and dealing with the altitude. There’s no shame in dropping a game on the road against a team from the other conference. Let’s take a look at The Dancing, The Sulking, and The Walk Off, which is really just The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, just in Cam Newton references.
*Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen: I predicted that they would each go over 1,000 yards this year, and they’re off to a great start. Benjamin had six catches for 91 yards while Olsen had seven catches for 73 yards. Benjamin, in particular, looked like his old self, using his body to shield the defenders and making some tough grabs. Denver has one of the best secondaries in the league, but Benjamin and Olsen found a way to still make an impact. They’re really going to feast on teams with a lesser defense.
*Cam Newton’s Toughness: Cam took a ton of big shots in this game, including five helmet-to-helmet hits (more on those later). He still held strong in the pocket and set the team up for a game-winning field goal. The second half was rough as the Broncos finally found a way to pressure him, but I thought overall Cam had a strong game.
*Takeaways: The defense came up with three takeaways, all of which came inside the 30. Without those takeaways, this game could’ve been a lot worse considering how bad the defense looked for the majority of the game.
*Punting: Andy Lee was totally worth the 4th round pick.
*James Bradberry: Poor Bradberry got abused by Demaryius Thomas, Trevor Siemian went after him all night, and there wasn’t much Bradberry could do about it. I knew there would be growing pains for the rookie corner, and Thomas is a tough first match-up. Bradberry just has to hang tough and learn from his mistakes. Josh Norman didn’t become Josh Norman in a day, and it’s unrealistic to expect Bradberry to do the same. By the end of the season, I think Bradberry will be making plays and playing with a ton of confidence.
*Run Defense: The Carolina run defense is usually strong thanks to linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and a strong front four, but they got gashed in this one. C.J. Anderson had 92 yards on 20 carries and the fullback, who probably won’t have another memorable moment all season, broke off a 28 yard run for a touchdown. The poor run defense allowed Siemian to settle in early and make some plays.
The Walk Off
*Illegal Hits and Referees: Cam Newton took five helmet-to-helmet hits. None of them were penalized. Alright, so one of them was called a penalty, but that penalty didn’t actually count because Cam got called for intentional ground. I will say that one, maybe two, of those hits were judgment calls as Cam was falling and the helmet came in contact, but the others saw Denver played leave their feet and launch into Cam. The referees tonight were atrocious. Whether it was missed calls, questionable calls, or even picking up the flag. Carolina was helped out by a call, the Chris Harris hands to the face call on 4th and 21, but far more went against them. I wouldn’t be shocked if the NFL handed out a couple of fines on the Broncos side of things because the headshots were out of hand. We joke that the NFL protects the quarterback too much, but Newton got no protection from the NFL or the referees in this one.
*Clock Management and Timeouts: Ron Rivera really putting the pressure on Andy Reid to fuck things up this week.
Graham Gano: I knew he wasn’t going to make it. I wasn’t just saying that as a pessimistic Panthers fan. I was saying that as someone who has watched every kick Gano has ever taken in a Panthers uniform. He’s always good for one important miss a game, and he’s always good for 50+ yard miss. A game-winning field goal from 50 yards? It never had a chance.
The Panthers were never going 15-1 this season. While that’s still possible, it’s highly unlikely when you start 0-1. The schedule is just much tougher than it was last season and it started tonight. They gave themselves a chance to win tonight, they just didn’t take full advantage of the turnovers and missed the game-winning kick. This team is still the favorites to win the NFC South, and I suspect you’ll see a much different team in January then you saw tonight.