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Broncos Panthers game balls: The offensive line was something nasty on Thursday Night Football

When the Denver Broncos win as they did 21-20 on Thursday Night Football against the Carolina Panther, we hand out game balls.

NFL: Preseason-San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the Denver Broncos needing a last second missed field goal to secure the 21-20 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. The game was a tale of two halves, the Panthers dominated the first half, while the Broncos took control in the second. Denver showed they are a team that keeps their poise and will grind things out to the very end.

This game had all of the drama the NFL hopes the first game of the regular season would have, right up to some good old fashioned Mile High Magic to give Denver the win after a hard fought contest. Thank you, Graham Gano!

Here our the game balls our staff is giving out.

Donald Stephenson

The Broncos may have found their best right tackle they have had in a long time with the acquisition of Stephenson. He held his own all game long and provided a huge spark the offensive line needed to help bolster their rushing attack. He did a great job fighting off Charles Johnson in pass protection as well and gave Trevor Siemian ample time to throw the ball. Kudos to him and the rest of the offensive line on a job well done against a ferocious Panthers front seven. - Chris Hart

Michael Schofield

Michael Schofield is track two off of frozen water's first solo album for most Broncos fans, but it is time to kill that narrative. Throughout training camp and preseason it was not easy to illustrate Schofield's obvious improvement, because he spent most of his reps replacing Russell Okung at starting left tackle and shadowing reps at Donald Stephenson's right tackle spot as training camp began to wrap-up.

On the primere depth chart Schofield was listed as a co-starter at right guard of all places with a back slash seperating his name and Ty Sambrailo. Then the game against the Carolina Panthers happened. To put what happened last night for Schofield into PFF terms, Schofield finished 2015 with a PFF grade of 41.5, he came out of last night's game with a PFF grade of 77.6. Not too shabby for a guard that spent the last month and a half filling in for tackles, Schofield is currently the highest rated guard in the league and likely to stay at the top as the NFL turns more games in through Monday. - Ian Henson

Honorable Mention: Matt Paradis

Russell Okung

Remember how poorly our LT played the last time we faced the Panthers? Kony Ealy used Ryan Harris to have the best game of his life, much like Von Miller used Mike Remmers to win the MVP.

Well, last night Russell Okung played some high level LT for us - I'm talking about pre-injury Ryan Clady level. A level that we haven't seen in Denver in some time, at least on our team. Not only did he do a good job of keeping Kony Ealy off of Trevor Siemian all night, but he also manned-up in the running game and opened some massive holes for CJ Anderson and Devontae (two hands on the ball darnit) Booker.

On that one goal-line run he almost single-handedly pushed CJ into the endzone (now legal) from the one. If he continues to play this well, John Elway will have gotten a huge steal (Okung will only make $5MM this year) and Russell will have played himself into a huge contract next season. - Joe Mahoney

DeMarcus Ware

A healthy DeMarcus Ware is lethal, as we saw last night. Ware brought the pressure all game, despite the holding against our line that was never called (here we go again), and now leads the NFL in sacks. Keeping his snap count low with our defensive line depth is going to have a huge payback this season. - Kelly Fleming

Von Miller

Was this Von Miller's best game. Nope. Not even close. He was held in check most of the game. So, why is he getting my gameball? Simple. When a team like the Carolina Panthers is forced to adjust there entire game plan for one player it is going to impact the game. Miller was double teamed and chipped all night. Valuable resources that could have been utilized in ways that might have opened up the offense even more were redirected to the path of Miller. It was all about giving Cam Newton time to throw. It worked to, for awhile. Eventually, Miller and DeMarcus Ware got to Cam. When they got to him you could tell he was rattled. Miller's impact was felt throughout the game, even if it doesn't show up in the box score. - Adam Malnati

Aqib Talib

Aqib Talib is the kind of player that gets under your skin on the field and to the people that watch at home. He's a fiery person with a big mouth and a aggressive nature on the football field. Put all of that aside. He's the best cornerback on the Broncos (no offense at all to CHJ who is only behind him because of size). Talib's play on Thursday night was nothing short of outstanding. He wasn't thrown at often (I'll give you three guesses why), and when the ball did come his way he was busy reminding Broncos Country of what Champ Baily in his prime looked like in coverage. Welcome back to the field, Aqib. I for one am happy to see you healed up and getting after it. - Sadaraine

Chris Harris Jr.

The smartest (and best) cornerback in the game today is Chris Harris Jr. He had the highest PFF grade on the night of either team. His interception was a thing few players can match. He first defended the pass, then adjusted to the tipped ball for a diving interception. You won’t see many plays like this in the NFL. Period.

Some will try to say he nearly cost the Broncos the game, but his Hands to the Face penalty was one of the worst calls of the game. I would never blame Harris for this call in a million years.

Broncos fans should count their lucky stars that John Elway was able to secure a talent like Harris long-term. He is a tactician and those kinds of defensive backs are rare anymore. - Tim Lynch

C.J. Anderson

The words have been used before. “This is C.J. Anderson’s year.” “This is the season C.J. puts it all together.” “C.J. is in great shape and looks good too.” Then the season starts and the hype doesn’t live up to reality. Since we heard this all before, there was some doubt. We needed to see it on the field for this to stick. Not only did it stick, Anderson had one helluva game against one of the best front sevens in football.

As I said in my column, Anderson looked and played like a No. 1 running back. Yet more important, his teammates fed off of his energy. The harder he continued to run, the better the offensive line blocked. As the game ticked by, Denver’s offensive line got better and better. Anderson was the best player on the field and gives reason to feel excitement about Denver's running game again. - Ian St. Clair

Andy Janovich

I'm not well versed in the history of 6th round draft picks(outside of Terrell Davis), but I've gotta think that was one of the most impressive performances from a 6th round pick in his NFL debut ever! Our running game looked better than I have seen it in the last several years and Andy Janovich was a huge part of that. He sprung CJ on a huge run in the first half, then a few plays later followed it up with a huge run of his own. How often does a FB score a 28-yard TD on his first NFL carry? Welcome to the NFL, Andy, have a gameball, you've earned it. - Jeff Essary

Trevor Siemian

Poise, confidence, clutch: These were words that most here scoffed at and made fun of when applied to the hopes and potential of our 7th round quarterback. Well, who's laughing now? I heard it for months, nay, YOU'VE all heard it for months, "Trevor Siemian is Kyle Orton 2.0" Well, who's got egg on their face now? Would Kyle Orton engineer a 10 point second half come from behind win against the reining NFC Champs? No! Kyle Orton would sack himself instead. Kyle Orton would fumble at our own goal line instead. Kyle Orton would throw an ugly pick six instead. Does Trevor need more work? Of course he does. He had 2 interceptions. But those weren't bad reads and bad throws. He simply needs to put a bit of air under his passes.

That can be taught, being clutch can't. CLUTCH? Yes, CLUTCH! 69% completion for a guy people claim isn't "accurate". 178 yards, 1 TD (clutch) and 2 INTs that if this were Paxton Lynch, people would excuse and brush under the rug. Well, get use to seeing #13 back there Broncos Country, because that leash that Siemian is on just got a whole lot longer!

Riddle me this Broncos Faithful: Is Trevor a draft day steal? Is he really a 1st rounder that simply slid to the 7th round? I mean, if he beat out our 1st rounder, then that must mean he's playing better than the 1st rounder, right? So maybe it's time to ease up on his poorly perceived "ceiling" and start calling it like it is; Trevor Siemian, Franchise Quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Well, at least for this week! Congrats Trevor, you got my, and everyone else in Broncos Country that isn't biased, gameball. - Pete Baron

Mile High Crowd

My game ball goes to the Mile High crowd in the stands (and everyone jumping up and down at home too)! The crowd noise was so palpable, so deafening and so awesome that it absolutely helped the Broncos win. Whether it threw Cam Newton off his game a little, who knows, but it absolutely helped that defense stay motivated and hyped and ready to draw blood on the Panthers. As someone who doesn't get to go to many games at Mile High, I am always so excited to be there for an electrifying win because there is nothing greater than that stadium on its feet supporting its team. Mile High Salute to the fans in the stands (including me). - Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann

Who gets your game ball?