Sunday's NFL preseason slate may not have been as meaty as Saturday -- in both quantity and quality -- but it was a revealing look at four teams that expect to be in the thick of the Super Bowl hunt come January. Peyton Manning looked like, well, Peyton Manning as the Denver Broncos ran the San Francisco 49ers out of their brand-new stadium and Cam Newton overcame some offseason rust to spur the Carolina Panthers past the Kansas City Chiefs in the nightcap.
Antoine Bethea, the two-time Pro Bowler who came to San Francisco from Indianapolis in the offseason, left and did not return after sustaining a concussion in the second quarter. Bethea is scheduled to start at strong safety.
The Broncos lost reserve linebacker Lamin Barrow to a lower leg injury in the third quarter. Barrow has been in the mix to replace starting Will linebacker Danny Trevathan, who will miss four to eight weeks with a knee injury.
Denver tight end Gerell Robinson, who is fighting an uphill battle to make the roster, exited in the second half after hurting his right knee.
Carolina Panthers 28, Kansas City Chiefs 16
Things started off slowly for the Panthers offense, but they hit their stride in the second quarter and outpaced the Chiefs from there on.
Most expected rust from Cam Newton, who saw his first live action since undergoing offseason ankle surgery and is breaking in a completely new receiving corps. He started the game 1-of-5 while the Carolina offense went three-and-out in their first three drives. His most egregious error came in the first quarter when he badly overthrew a wide open Kelvin Benjamin, who was streaking down the left sideline with no one within five yards of him.
But Newton began to settle down in the second quarter, leading Carolina on consecutive touchdown drives, both of which ended with Jonathan Stewart scoring runs. Newton finished 4-of-9 for 65 yards.
The Chiefs were more successful moving the ball early, though they couldn't find the end zone. Alex Smith went 14-of-22 for 127 yards behind his rebuilt offensive line. That line -- which saw the departure of its starting left tackle and both starting guards in free agency -- was respectable in blocking Luke Kuechly, Greg Hardy and the rest of the Panthers defensive front (though Smith took some shots), but struggled to generate much on the ground.
Jamaal Charles didn't make the trip to Charlotte as he recovers from a bruised foot, which allowed Knile Davis to get heavy reps with the first team. While Davis showed flashes of ability, the O-line didn't give much room to operate -- he finished the half with nine carries for 30 yards and added another 26 yards through the air.
Dwayne Bowe, who will sit out the regular-season opener for a substance abuse violation, had a brief but successful showing, grabbing five balls for 62 yards. Benjamin recorded two catches for 41 yards, but killed a drive late in the half with an unnecessary roughness penalty.
Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray, the rookie out of Georgia who didn't get a chance to throw a pass in the first preseason game, made the most of his first opportunity. On his first snap in the third quarter, he hit tight end Travis Kelce for a 43-yard touchdown play. The play was almost identical to Kelce's 69-yard score against the Cincinnati Bengals as he broke free down the seam and raced into the end zone.
Denver Broncos 34, San Francisco 49ers 0
To nobody's surprise, Peyton Manning looks to be in midseason form. He picked apart the 49ers defense for 102 yards and a touchdown in a little more than one quarter of play, setting the tone for Denver's laugher of a win.
Manning's 17-yard strike to Julius Thomas gave Denver a 10-point lead early in the second quarter.
That touchdown came against safety Craig Dahl, who was filling in for a concussed .
The Broncos were down a few starters themselves coming into the game. Running back Montee Ball is recovering from an emergency appendectomy (Ronnie Hillman took his spot in the starting lineup), Von Miller is still battling back from last season's ACL tear and free agent wideout acquisition Emmanuel Sanders was a last-minute scratch. In somewhat of a surprise move, Jordan Norwood started in Sanders' spot instead of second-round draft pick Cody Latimer.
Latimer got his moment nevertheless, making an outstanding diving grab on a 33-yard pass from Brock Osweiler in the third quarter.
Osweiler did his best Manning impression after entering in the second quarter. The two passers combined for 22-of-27 passing, with 207 yards and two scores.
Colin Kaepernick showed poise and patience, but completed only five passes for 39 yards in limited play. He came within inches of a deep touchdown to Brandon Lloyd on the opening possession (after Lloyd burned big-money cornerback signee Aqib Talib), but the ball was just out of reach.
C.J. Anderson took the ball in from one yard out in the final seconds of the half to put Denver up by 17.
The game was the first to be played in San Francisco's new Levi's Stadium, which looks pretty spiffy.