Nobody needed a career game more than quarterback Drew Lock, who posted personal NFL highs in touchdown passes (four) and rating (149.5). Lock’s streak of seven consecutive games with an interception also ended. Eight players had at least two catches, including receiver KJ Hamler (two touchdowns) and four receptions apiece from tight ends Troy Fumagalli and Nick Vannett. The newly-formed offensive line, minus left tackle Garett Bolles (illness) and Graham Glasgow (foot), allowed a sack that led to a Carolina touchdown, but opened holes for Melvin Gordon to average 5.2 yards on 13 carries (68 yards). The key thing for right guard Netane Muti in his NFL debut and right tackle Elijah Wilkinson (replacing Demar Dotson)? No penalties.
The Broncos’ defense, minus all kinds of cornerbacks, finally blew a tire in the fourth quarter, when Carolina had scoring drives of 75, 74 and 75 yards to stay in the game. But the Panthers couldn’t convert a fourth-and-8 with 1:50 remaining. The Panthers finished with 370 yards. The Broncos didn’t create a takeaway (again), but did have four sacks (one apiece by outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, cornerback Will Parks and defensive ends DeMarcus Walker and Dre’Mont Jones). Safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons had a team-high seven tackles and were active close to the line of scrimmage when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw short.
Diontae Spencer’s 83-yard punt return touchdown, the Broncos’ first in five years, started the scoring and a special teams score usually means an ‘A’ on the ledger. But kicker Brandon McManus missed two point-after attempts for the first time in his career; he had only four career misses before Sunday. Spencer was in no man’s land on Carolina’s final kickoff, a squib attempt that appeared to be rolling into the end zone but Spencer was forced to field it at his 2-yard line (five-yard return). Sam Martin averaged 44.3 yards net on four punts and the Broncos didn’t allow any return yards to Pharoh Cooper. McManus had five touchdowns on six kickoffs.
Winning with three new starting offensive linemen and a bunch of new cornerbacks merits a high mark by the Broncos’ coaches. The message from offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterback coach Mike Shula got through to Lock about taking a short profit when the big gain wasn’t there. And offensive line coach Mike Munchak started two rookies (Muti and center Lloyd Cushenberry) and second-year fill-in left tackle Calvin Anderson and kept Lock mostly upright except for one sack. And how about a hat tip to special teams coordinator Tom McMahon? Spencer’s punt return touchdown was just the kind of play the Broncos needed early in a game.
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