CHARLOTTE – Jordan Gross glanced over at the Carolina Panthers’ defensive players after the game, and quickly looked away, a bit embarrassed.
“The defense did so well and you want those guys to believe in the offense,” the Panthers offensive tackle said. “And right now, we’re not doing well enough.”
Cam Newton and the rest of the offense struggled yet again in a 36-14 loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Denver’s offense put up 20 points, and the rest of the points came on and interception return, a safety and a 76-yard punt return by Trindon Holliday.
“Our defense played phenomenal (Snday), containing a good offense of the most part in this game,” Newton said. “We know with any team in this league all you can do is contain them. Causing turnovers, that’s what we expect, that’s what we want from our defense. And they made them. They stepped up to the challenge, and we’ve just got to do better on offense.”
But can they?
After finishing fifth in the league in scoring a year ago, the Panthers have been stuck in neutral all season. The Panthers (2-7) have scored more than 20 points just four times this season.
“It’s very embarrassing, but things are going to change – hopefully,” Newton said. “I can’t keep saying that and not holding up to it, but there are brighter days ahead for the Carolina Panthers.”
For now, there is just misery.
“The defense gave us a chance to win, but we didn’t do anything on offense,” Gross said. “It was as bad of a day as I can remember.”
Manning made sure coach John Fox’s return to Carolina was successful, throwing for 301 yards and a touchdown, and the defense turned in a dominating performance. Manning threw his 420th touchdown pass to move into a tie for second place on the NFL’s list with Dan Marino. He trails only Brett Favre (508).
“I have never felt comfortable kind of being mentioned with him,” Manning said.
Manning had plenty of help from his teammates. Linebacker Von Miller harassed Newton as the Broncos (6-3) won for the fifth time in six weeks.
The Broncos sacked Newton seven times, including once for a safety, and Miller pressured him into an interception Tony Carter returned 40 yards for a score.
Fox spent nine seasons in Carolina before his relationship with owner Jerry Richardson dramatically deteriorated when the organization failed to offer him a contract extension.
So Sunday’s win was a taste of revenge, although Fox took the high road after the game.
“You just feel good to win,” Fox said. “You put a lot into these things. It is seven days of hard work and countless hours. It’s all for naught if you don’t win.”
Miller was all over the field and finished with a sack, forced fumble and four tackles for a loss.
“We changed up our protections, did a couple of things differently and they were still able to break through,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
After a strong start, Newton finished 21-of-36 for 241 yards with two touchdown passes to tight end Greg Olsen. He threw two interceptions.
Despite spending most of the day on his back, Newton wouldn’t pass blame on his offensive line.
“This is the same offensive line that did an excellent job a lot of times (Sunday), so I’m not thrashing them.” Newton said. “... I think personally, I have to do a better job of getting the football out, getting it to my outlets.”
The Panthers appeared ready to give the Broncos a challenge early while playing in all-black uniforms, jumping to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 4-yard pass from Newton to Olsen.
But it was all Broncos after that as they’d score 29-straight points.
Early in the third quarter, the Panthers appeared to have life after Charles Johnson sacked Manning and forced a fumble that Greg Hardy recovered.
But on the next play Miller grabbed Newton’s ankle in the backfield as he was trying to throw and Carter stepped in front of the pass near the sideline and returned it for a touchdown and a 24-7 lead. Prater added another field goal and Mike Adams sacked Newton for a safety to make it 29-7.
“I should have thrown it out of bounds,” Newton said. “I have to be more mature than that. It’s better to be second-and-10 than have a pick-six.”