Fans could not have wished for a better season opener for the 2016 National Football League season as the previous two Super Bowl teams, the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, pushed each other right until the final seconds of the game before a winner was found.
Carolina came into the game looking to avenge their Super Bowl loss and to start their season on a high by defeating the champions and seemed destined to do so after a fast start but Denver found their rhythm and managed eek out a close win in front of their fans.
All Carolina in the first half
The talk may have been about Trevor Siemian before the game but Carolina made sure that by half time, they were the main topic of discussion.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula decided to keep running back Mike Tolbert in the game to double team and chip Broncos linebacker Von Miller and that tactic worked perfectly for Carolina. This allowed Cam Newton to make the plays with his feet or with his arm that were necessary to drive down the field for Carolina's two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen were big targets for Newton while running back Jonathon Stewart allowed the Panthers to play a lot of fake hand offs or play action passes to move down the field. Benjamin opened the scoring for the game after he held of his defender and caught a pass in the end zone. Newton scored the second Carolina touchdown after he run to the edge and reached for the pylon. That touchdown by Newton broke the NFL records for the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and the most games with a passing and rushing touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers were at their disruptive best. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was effective against the run and stopped Broncos running back C.J. Anderson from being able to run up the middle at every opportunity. Kuechly also caused the first turnover of the game after forcing the fumble from Devontae Booker. Defensive end Thomas Davis continued to get in the face of Siemian and actually managed to get a pick for himself after blitzing the Denver quarter back and catching the pass. The only blot on the Panthers performance was a missed assignment in their won 20 that allowed Denver full back Andy Janovich to score a 28-yard touchdown.
Denver rally to win the game
The Broncos came out firing in the second half and both Siemian and the Denver defense found an extra gear to try and win the game. The young quarter back really found some consistency in the second half and helped drive his team down the field to quickly take the lead against the Panthers and also keep Newton and company away from the action for an extended period of time. Siemian's half did not start well however as he was intercepted by Panthers corner back Bené Benwikere in the third quarter but the Broncos quarter back did not let that shake his confidence though.
Early in the fourth quarter, Siemian led his team down the field and as he watched the Panthers blitz him, lobbed the ball to C.J. Anderson who ran for 28 yards to get a touchdown. That touchdown yard was part of a 100 plus rushing yard game for Anderson who helped out his rookie quarter back with some good rushing plays and blocking as well.
Another reason for the swing in momentum for Denver was the play of their defense. In the third quarter, linebacker Demarcus Ware finally got to Newton and sacked the quarter back to give the ball back to the offense which led to the first touchdown. The next big defensive play was by corner Chris Harris and it was probably the play that won the game for Denver.
Harris tracked Newton and tipped a pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen. Harris did not stop there as he turned around and caught the ball before it hit the ground to make a great defensive play for Denver. This gave their offense a shorter field to work with and after a few stops by the Panthers defense, Anderson found enough space to run in for another touchdown. The Broncos defense were not done and Von Miller got in on the act late in the fourth quarter as he got a sack as well.
A field goal is the difference on the night
Carolina managed to get the ball back with just over three minutes left in the game. The Panthers then proceeded to chose plays that would run down the clock but also get them within reasonable field goal range for their kicker, Graham Gano, who had been 100% accurate up until this point in the game. Denver made a few plays on defense here and there to slow down the Panthers drive and tried to get the ball back but some penalties and good catches by Olsen allowed Carolina to get within 50 yards of the end zone. The Panthers knew it was within range for their kicker and decided to try it with nine seconds left on the clock.
Gano made his first attempt but Denver called a time out just before his kick which made sure that his successful attempt did not count. The kicker than tried again and could only watch as his kick went wide left to the relief of the Broncos and their fans. After all of the great play, it came down to a missed field goal attempt to give the Broncos the win but head coach Gary Kubiak will not mind one bit.