The Denver Broncos showed the world why they are the defending Super Bowl champions.
Grit. Intensity. Determination. Teamwork. A never say die attitude. The odds may have been stacked against them. Hardly anybody in the national media was giving them a chance of winning at home. All that didn't matter
It wasn't pretty, but it was indeed glorious, as the Denver Broncos did the unthinkable and became the first defending champion to win their season opener after trailing by more than 8 points in the fourth quarter by defeating the Carolina Panthers 21-20.
The opening drive of the game showed promise for the Broncos, who quickly marched down the field only to have rookie running back Devontae Booker fumble the ball away near the red zone — which certainly isn’t a way to impress your fellow teammates, coaches and fans in your first appearance under the bright lights of prime time football.
The Panthers capitalized on the turnover and commanded an eight play drive that went for 71 yards, which was capped off by quarterback Cam Newton who threw a touchdown strike to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (who I mentioned as their X-Factor), who was able to get inside leverage against Chris Harris Jr. for an early touchdown score to put the Panthers up 7-0.
Denver’s second offensive possession was going well until defensive tackle Star Lotulelei tipped a third down pass from Trevor Siemian that fell into the hands of long-time savvy veteran outside linebacker Todd Davis Sr.
A few series later, the Broncos finally put points on the board when rookie fullback Andy Janovich rumbled his way into the end zone on a special 28 yard touchdown run. That evened up the game's score at 7-7 and put the two teams at a virtual stalemate. Oddly enough, it is the third season in the row that the NFL's first rushing touchdown has been by a fullback.
How about that?!— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 9, 2016
Broncos rookie FB Andy Janovich scores 28-yard TD on his 1st ever NFL carry. pic.twitter.com/KfJELMGwd7
The tie of the game was short lived, and the Panthers continued their offensive dominance against the defense and rattled on an impressive 18 play drive that went 89 yards and took 9 minutes and 15 seconds off the clock the second The drive was capped off with a two yard touchdown run by Newton.
It was one of the worst defensive drives Broncos fans have witnessed in recent memory. They Panthers offense ritually capitalized on miscues by the defense and roared for 5 third down conversions in the course of that drive. The below tweet highlights the struggles Denver had stopping the Panthers on third down in the first half.
Cam Newton was 6-for-6 for 70 yards on third down in the first half. Five conversions.— Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin) September 9, 2016
Carolina was able to add a field goal to their point total at the end of the first half to give them a ten point lead, 17-7 heading into halftime. They dominated the offense tone of the first half and shredded the Broncos' defense for 210 total yards.
It didn't get much better for the Broncos offense in the second half. On their opening possession they moved the ball down the field with ease, but the drive was halted when Siemian tried to connect deep with Emmanuel Sanders, but was intercepted by cornerback Bene' Benwikere.
Three turnovers, all inside the Carolina 30-yard line. That's how you fritter away a winnable game.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) September 9, 2016
Denver's defense held strong in the second half and rattled Newton on their first several drives and gave the Broncos offense a fighting chance. As usual, the Broncos were able to move the ball down the field, but could they capitalize?
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, we received an answer when the Broncos were finally able to score another touchdown. A twenty-five yard screen pass to C.J. Anderson did the trick and brought the game within reach, with Denver only trailing by three points 17-14.
Thanks to an interception by Harris Jr., the Broncos were back in business and after ten plays inside the 25 yard line, they scored once more, thanks again to C.J. Anderson who powered through the Panthers' defensive line and put the Broncos up 21-17.
On the next possession, Newton helped lead the Panthers down the field and secured another field goal from Graham Gano to bring the game within one point of reach at 21-20.
The two teams went back and fourth in the last five minutes of the game, but at the end of the day, the Broncos defense did just enough and a well-advised time out helped ice Gano who missed a 50 yard field goal that could have won the Panthers the game.
Folks, you couldn't have asked for a more exciting game to kick off the 2016 NFL season. You saw the heart and desire this team has. You saw that they can defy the odds and overcome adversity. If they remain diligent in their pursuit of excellence, the sky is the limit for the 2016 Denver Broncos.
Hart’s Quick Hits
- He wasn't perfect, but Trevor Siemian was efficient for most of the game, outside of the two interceptions he threw. He looked calm and poised in the pocket and made a handful of key third down throws and scrambled for several other first downs to keep the ball moving on offense for the Broncos. Siemian ended his first game as a starter going 18 of 26 for 178 yards and a touchdown.
- The offensive line, in particular Russell Okung and Max Garcia looked good tonight. Garcia’s explosiveness and prowess in the running game was apparent and Okung did a very good job against Kony Ealy, isolating his pass rushing skills for the game’s entirety. Dare I even say Michael Schofield looked like a completely different player starting at right guard instead of right tackle? If the Broncos offensive line can keep this up throughout the course of the season, the performance and efficacy of the offense will be greatly improved in comparison to last season.
- The defensive line struggled at times and seemed to be particularly weak up the middle. Adam Gotsis and Jared Crick were not impressive at defensive end and Sly Williams and Darius Kilgo were often beat at the point of attack. The Panthers averaged almost 5 yards per carry and rushed for 157 total yards. If the Broncos defense wants to remain one of the best in the league, they will have to do much better against the run the rest of the season.
- C.J. Anderson was the workhorse for the Broncos offense this evening. He had 20 rushes for 92 yards and a touchdown, but added to his overall yardage total with 4 catches for 47 yards and a touchdown reception. Hats off to John Elway for matching the Miami Dolphins' offer to Anderson and bringing him back to help lead the offensive squad in 2016. Have no doubts friends, Anderson is bound to have an exceptional season and a career year for the Broncos.
- Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were the only Broncos wide receivers to catch the ball. Sanders had 5 receptions for 49 yards and Thomas reeled in 4 catches for 48 yards. At the tight end position, Virgil Green caught 4 passes for 28 yards.
- After giving up 210 yards of total offense in the first half, the Broncos defense improved greatly in the second half of the game and only allowed the Panthers to accumulate 113 yards of total offense in the last 30 minutes. DeMarcus Ware had 1.5 sacks and Von Miller notched a sack as well for the Broncos this evening. The pass rush didn't show up until late, but better late than never.
- Each team had 21 total first downs. The Broncos controlled the ball for 27:41 during the game, the Panthers had the advantage in regard to the clock at 32:19.
How happy are you Broncos Country? Give us your thoughts and takeaways from the game in the comments section.