Although the Carolina Panthers have seven losses through nine game thus far, the 36-14 drubbing the team took at the hands of the Denver Broncos was only the second time this season the Panthers lost by double digits.
That’s how head coach Ron Rivera sold the loss at his postgame press conference (h/t Panthers.com).
“This is tough,” said Rivera. “This is really only the second time we’ve lost a game like this this year. We’ve played hard enough and given ourselves a chance down the stretch to win football games. To have one of these, especially after coming off the Washington win, that’s tough. It’s a very tough pill to swallow.”
Carolina’s two big losses have come against Denver Sunday and the New York Giants in Week 3. Those two losses were by an average 25.5 points. The Panthers' other five losses—all by less than a touchdown—have been by an average of 3.6 points.
As much as this beating looks like an old-fashioned woodshed whooping, the scoreboard doesn’t tell the whole story.
The Panthers held Denver to just 65 yards rushing, a more-than-solid performance from a unit that’s best week prior to Sunday was holding the Chicago Bears to 79 yards rushing in Week 8.
Carolina also held Peyton Manning to just one touchdown pass, his lowest total of the season. Both efforts against the run and pass for the Panthers on defense are building blocks for future games.
Where the Broncos hurt the Panthers Sunday was in the pass rush, and a Trindon Holliday 76-yard punt return for a touchdown wasn’t pleasant either.
The Broncos brought a heavy pass rush on Newton all day, sacking the second-year passer seven times, the most he’s been downed in his career. That pass rush was directly responsible for nine Denver points.
The first seven of those nine points from Denver’s pass rush were off of the third-quarter, 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by Tony Carter.
Newton was in trouble and scrambling for his life when he was tripped. Instead of taking the sack (probably the right move), Newton threw the ball as he was falling down. Carter jumped the route and easily scored. Had Newton not been falling, he would have seen Carter maneuvering and not thrown the football.
The other two points that were a direct result of Denver’s pass rush came off a safety in the fourth quarter. Newton stepped up into the pocket when his receivers were covered, and Mike Adams grabbed him and pulled him to the turf.
Newton, in his postgame press conference, said he needed to get the ball out quicker and make it through his progressions faster. Which is absolutely a true statement.
Credit the Denver defense for locking up Newton’s receivers, and its awesome pass rush for disrupting the Carolina offense.
But also credit Carolina’s defense. The Panthers held a high-powered Denver offense to just 20 points—two touchdowns and two field goals—and gave hope that against a team that wasn’t propelled by Peyton Manning this defense may give the Carolina offense enough of a chance to win some games.