DENVER – The old icing-the-kicker trick worked.
Right after the Denver Broncos called a timeout, Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano hooked a field-goal attempt wide left with four seconds left, and the Broncos won 21-20 in a thrilling NFL regular-season opener on Thursday night.
The miss erased Cam Newton’s chance at Super Bowl revenge.
The Panthers got into field-goal range due to a couple penalties. Their final drive was kept alive by a questionable illegal hands to the face infraction on Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris on fourth-and-21. Then Broncos safety Darian Stewart went high on Newton as he threw a pass, and the roughing the passer penalty offset an intentional grounding call on Newton. So the Panthers had second-and-10 again.
Newton stayed down for a few moments after the Stewart hit, but never came out of the game. And Newton delivered when the Panthers needed it. A play after the Stewart penalty, Newton hit Kelvin Benjamin for a first down on third-and-10 to the Broncos’ 37. Then he hit Ted Ginn on the sideline for 5 more yards, just enough to get Gano in range for a field goal.
Then Gano missed and the Broncos crowd went crazy. A Broncos team that caught so many good breaks during last season’s championship campaign got another.
The Panthers came out looking like a team ready for Super Bowl revenge. The Panthers forced three Broncos turnovers in Carolina territory. Newton ran for a touchdown and threw a nice one to Kelvin Benjamin. Carolina led 17-7 at the half.
But the Broncos didn’t play that badly. The turnovers set them back. Two Siemian interceptions, including one bad-luck one that was batted at the line, kept the Panthers ahead on the scoreboard.
Then in the second half, the Broncos defense looked like it did last season. From the start of the half until Denver took a 21-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, Newton had one completion for 13 yards. He had as many interceptions as completions for the first quarter-plus of the second half; Harris made a great play to tip a Newton pass and intercept it.
After the interception led to the go-ahead score by C.J. Anderson, his second touchdown, the Panthers came alive. Newton drove the offense into Broncos territory, but the drive stalled and the Panthers kicked a field goal with 4:21 left.
Siemian had a good game for his first career start. He threw two interceptions, but stayed calm when his team was down 10 points and took the Broncos back to the lead. But after the Panthers cut Denver’s lead to 21-20, he threw incomplete on first down and on third down he held the ball and was sacked on a safety blitz by Tre Boston. The three-and-out gave the Panthers the ball back with 3:06 to go.
The Broncos got pressure on Newton on that final drive, including a couple sacks, but Newton kept cool and got the Panthers in position to pull off a huge Week 1 win against the team that beat them in Super Bowl 50.
Then Gano missed wide left.
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