In his first game back off the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Diontae Spencer opened the scoring in style. The speedy return specialist caught the Panthers’ first punt of the game at the Broncos’ 17-yard line and weaved his way through Panthers defenders before breaking free along the left sideline. Unlike earlier in the season, Spencer was not caught this time. The 83-yarder was the longest of his career and his first career touchdown. The Broncos had not scored a punt-return touchdown since 2015, when Omar Bolden returned one for a score against the Colts.
The faces may largely be different, but the Broncos continue to have the Panthers’ number.
In a rematch of Super Bowl 50, quarterback Drew Lock set a new career-high with four touchdown passes, and the Broncos’ defense held strong as Denver earned a 32-27 win in Charlotte.
The Broncos overcame a first-half turnover and one-point deficit to build a 15-point second-half lead over the Panthers on the back of a 19-3 scoring run. Carolina used a trio of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to cut the Broncos’ lead to one possession, but Lock hit Hamler for a 49-yard touchdown late in the game and the defense made a final-minute stand to ice the game. Dre’Mont Jones recorded a sack and De’Vante Bausby added a pair of important tackles on that final drive, including the sealing stop on fourth-and-8.
With the win, the Broncos improved to 5-8 on the season and grabbed their third road win of the season.
These were the players and plays that mattered in a bounce-back win over the Panthers:
The Broncos held the Panthers’ offense in check in the first half, as Carolina was held to 88 total yards before the break. Midway through the second quarter, though, the Panthers took the lead despite the Broncos’ solid defensive performance. Carolina grabbed the advantage after the Panthers’ Jeremy Chinn strip-sacked Lock due to an apparent miscommunication along the offensive line. The Panthers returned the fumble 54 yards and punched it in for a score two plays later. The Broncos responded in a big way, as Lock led the Broncos on a 12-play, 75-yard drive to retake the lead before halftime. Aided by a pair of Panthers’ penalties and a 31-yard Jerry Jeudy catch, the Broncos marched down the field to go ahead 13-7. Denver would not trail again, though the Panthers would challenge late in the game.
All week, we predicted the Broncos’ chances would come down to whether their second-ranked red-zone defense would hope up against the Panthers’ bottom 10 red-zone offense. Despite missing several starters in the secondary, Denver’s defense was largely up to the challenge — particularly early in the game. The Panthers were just 3-of-5 in the red zone, which made the difference in a five-point Broncos win. The Panthers’ 60 percent success rate on Sunday was worse than the 47.7 percent clip the Broncos have allowed this season, but it was enough to help the Broncos earn the win. On the other side of the field, the Broncos were 2-of-2 in their own red-zone opportunities.
Diontae Spencer opened the scoring and gave the Broncos their first punt-return touchdown in five years.
Drew Lock completed 21-of-27 passes for 280 yards and set a career-high with four touchdown passes.
Tim Patrick added his sixth touchdown of the season, while KJ Hamler recorded the second and third touchdowns of his young career.
The Broncos’ new-look offensive line of Calvin Anderson, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Netane Muti and Elijah Wilkinson allowed just one sack on the game. They also helped the Broncos rush for over 100 yards.
Jeremiah Attaochu recorded his second sack in the last two games, while Dre’Mont Jones added a clutch sack on the Panthers’ final drive.
Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons tied for the team lead with seven tackles each, but De’Vante Bausby made the most crucial tackle of the game on a fourth-and-8 on the Panthers’ final drive.