The Broncos mauled the Panthers in the trenches to give John Fox a happy homecoming, registering seven sacks and applying relentless pressure on Cam Newton. To add insult to injury, linebacker Von Miller mocked Newton's "Superman" celebration after planting him into the dirt.
Despite routinely running for his life, Newton exacerbated the offensive line's poor performance by holding onto the ball too long and missing open receivers.
The second-year quarterback completed 21 of 36 passes for 241 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Carolina actually took an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter, fueled by an impressive six-play, 77-yard drive, capped off by a four-yard touchdown pass from Newton to tight end Greg Olsen.
But that lead would prove to be what most Panthers leads have been this season – false hope.
After Peyton Manning hit Brandon Stokley on a 10-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at seven, mental mistakes doomed Ron Rivera's team – and potentially his head coaching career – despite a strong performance from the defense.
Trindon Holliday returned a Brad Nortman punt 76 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to put the Broncos up 14-7. Although the NFL has stated that the play should have resulted in a touchback due to Holiday prematurely flipping the ball out of his hand before crossing the goal line, the Panthers' special teams coverage was absolutely atrocious.
After Matt Prater's 53-yard field goal extended the Broncos lead to 17-7, the Panthers had a chance to cut the lead to a touchdown before halftime. But Justin Medlock's 43-yard field goal sailed wide left and, instead, the team went into the half down two scores.
But on the very next play, Newton, under heavy pressure from the Broncos pass rush, heaved an off-balance throw in the direction of Brandon LaFell instead of taking a sack or throwing the ball out of bounds. Tim Carter easily intercepted the pass and returned it 40 yards to paydirt to give Denver a 24-7 lead.
At that point, the game was over, and everyone knew it.
The remaining quarter and a half was nothing more than a hodgepodge of sacks, incomplete passes, penalties and turnovers by the Panthers offense.
The Broncos were even able to sack Cam Newton in the end zone to earn their second safety of the season.
At 2-7, the Panthers have officially become a disaster in 2012.
There are a lot of issues that will inevitably have to be addressed this offseason, namely the uncertainty at the head coaching and general manager positions. However, the Panthers still have seven games to play before they go back to the drawing board. There's still time to learn, grow and find out who's going to be part of the future.
The team will try to get back on track against NFC South-rival Tampa Bay at Bank of America Stadium next Sunday. The Panthers lost to the Buccaneers 16-10 in the season opener.
Update: The Panthers fired special teams coach Brian Murphy on Monday. Richard Rodgers will replace him.
Game Notes: Jonathan Stewart led the Panthers weak ground attack with eight carries for 31 yards.
Greg Olsen led the Panthers with nine receptions for 102 yards and the team's only two scores.
Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell combined for just 48 yards receiving on three catches.
Peyton Manning was efficient against the Panthers defense, completing 27 of 38 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown.
Willis McGahee led the Broncos rush attack with 14 carries for 56 yards.
Demaryius Thomas had a game-high 135 yards receiving on nine catches.
Tags: Cam Newton, Carolina, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Football, NFL, Peyton Manning, Ron Rivera, Von Miller
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