Grading the Carolina Panthers for Thursday’s game against the Broncos.
B Quarterback: Cam Newton played better than he did during the Super Bowl, especially considering all the shots he took to the head. Newton threw for a TD, ran for one and had the Panthers in position to win at the end. But when Graham Gano missed a 50-yard FG, Newton fell to 0-3 vs. the Broncos.
B- Running backs: Jonathan Stewart rushed for 63 yards on 15 carries But none of the backs could ever shake free for a long gain like their Denver counterparts. Stewart’s 11-yard rush was the longest by a Carolina running back
B Receivers: So much for Kelvin Benjamin having to shake off the rust. Newton targeted Benjamin 12 times, and the wideout caught six for 91 yards and a TD in his first game since 2014. TE Greg Olsen pulled down seven catches for 73 yards. But Nos. 2 and 3 WRs Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr. combined for only five targets and two catches for 14 yards.
C- Offensive line: The front five – right tackle Mike Remmers in particular – protected Newton better than they did against Denver in Super Bowl 50. The Broncos still sacked Newton three times, however, and hit him several times after he released the ball (see above). Center Ryan Kalil was whistled for a couple of penalties, including a dubious facemask call.
B- Defensive line: Charles Johnson forced a fumble in the first quarter and Kony Ealy prevented a TD with a batted pass. But the ends didn’t generate near enough pressure on first-time starter Trevor Siemian. First-round pick Vernon Butler had the only sack on Siemian by a defensive lineman, while DT Star Lotulelei tipped a pass that Thomas Davis intercepted.
D Defensive Backs: Rookie CB James Bradberry struggled at times in his first NFL start. He gave up several catches, was called for pass interference and picked up a second penalty that Denver declined. CB Bene’ Benwikere, who got the start over rookie Daryl Worley, had his first interception since 2014. A blitzing Kurt Coleman affected Siemian on Benwikere’s pick. Free safety Tre Boston came free on a blitz to sack Siemian late in the game, but the tackling by the defensive backs was not good.
D Special teams: Gano hooked the potential game-winner wide left moments after he’d drilled, the same kick after the Broncos had called timeout to ice him. A 50-yarder is well within Gano’s range, especially in Denver’s thin air: He was hitting the back of the net from 50 in warmups. Andy Lee put his first two punts in the end zone for touchbacks before booming a 76-yarder that was the longest in Panthers history. Joe Webb made a poor decision to try to field a bouncing kickoff, costing Carolina field position.
C Coaching: Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott doesn’t like to use a lot of blitzes, but the Panthers needed to do more to make Siemian uncomfortable. That said, the porous run defense put Siemian in a lot of manageable down-and-distances. The Panthers burned through a lot of timeouts, including one in the second half when Ron Rivera waited to challenge a spot. Mike Shula learned a lesson from the Super Bowl and had a good plan to neutralize Von Miller.