Broncos crush Panthers 36-14 in Fox's homecoming

jperson@charlotteobserver.comNovember 12, 2012 

— The Panthers got all worked up about spoiling the Redskins’ homecoming last weekend in Washington.

But they did little to rain on John Fox’s homecoming parade Sunday, allowing the former Carolina coach to fly back to Denver with a 36-14 victory and a smile on his face.

The Broncos sacked Cam Newton seven times, scored touchdowns in all three phases and likely drove another nail into the coffin of Ron Rivera, who succeeded Fox following the 2010 season.

Fox, who took the Panthers to the Super Bowl and two other playoff appearances in nine seasons in Charlotte, tried to downplay the game. But it meant enough to him that the Broncos presented him with the game ball after his first game at Bank of America Stadium as a visiting head coach.

“This game is fun when you win, anytime you get a victory on the road,” Fox said. “I think the guys kind of knew what this was going to be like for me and it was very generous of them.”

The Panthers (2-7) gave up no sacks last week in a 21-13 win over Washington. A few players said they felt slighted as the opponents for the Redskins’ alumni weekend.

But if the Panthers were fired up to face their former coach, they didn’t show it.

“It would have meant a lot for us to beat him,” said Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross, drafted by Fox before the 2003 Super Bowl season. “That’s a big game for him. I’m sure they’ll have a nice flight home. It’s a shame it went the way it did.”

The Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the first of tight end Greg Olsen’s two touchdown catches.

With the game tied at 7, Trindon Holliday returned Brad Nortman’s punt 76 yards for a touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter. The Panthers were familiar with Holliday, who scored on a 90-yard return against Carolina in the preseason while playing for Houston.

Television replays showed Holliday flipping the ball away before crossing the plane of the goal line, which would have been a fumble and a touchback, with the Panthers’ ball at the 20. Referee Al Riveron said the play was reviewed by the replay official, and confirmed as a touchdown.

Colin Jones got a hand on Holliday, who broke through the tackle attempt and sprinted past Nortman along the sideline.

“I definitely had an opportunity to make a play and lost leverage on the outside and just missed the tackle. I looked back and he scored,” Jones said. “Any time you give up a big play on special teams it’s a big momentum swing one way or the other.

“That just can’t happen.”

The Panthers never led again, as the Broncos (6-3) came after Newton with a fierce pass rush, led by linebacker Von Miller, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft behind Newton. Miller had four tackles for loss, a forced fumble and one of the Broncos’ seven sacks, the most allowed by the Panthers since Newton became the starter.

Miller’s pressure also forced Newton to make an ill-advised throw to Brandon LaFell, which cornerback Tony Carter intercepted and returned 40 yards for a touchdown to put Denver up 24-7 in the third quarter.

It was the second pick-six thrown by Newton in the past three games. The Panthers have never won when Newton throws an interception.

Newton, who was also intercepted in the fourth quarter, took the blame for the pick and defended his line.

“We’re going to have days like that,” Newton said. “That’s the same offensive line that did an excellent job a lot of times today, so I’m not thrashing them. I don’t expect anyone to thrash them.”

Olsen, who had his own troubles blocking Miller, said there was more to blame than the line. When safety Mike Adams sacked Newton in the end zone for a safety, Newton said his checkdown receiver never made it into his route.

“They were hitting Cam a lot. Myself included, it was not our best day up front,” Gross said. “They’re a good pass-rush team. We all know that. You get behind and let them pin their ears back, it’s going to be a rough day.”

Carter’s touchdown came a play after the Panthers forced a turnover on their lone sack of Peyton Manning, who completed 27 of 38 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown.

Manning’s touchdown – a 10-yarder to Brandon Stokley – was the 420th of his career, tying him with Dan Marino for second all-time. Brett Favre is the NFL leader with 508.

The Panthers’ defense gave up 20 points, forced three turnovers and held the Broncos to a 3-for-13 mark on third downs. But the offense didn’t provide much help, rushing for 52 yards and failing to convert a third down in 12 tries.

Denver linebacker Keith Brooking said stopping the running game early allowed the Broncos to go after Newton.

“They have a really good running game, but we needed to make it one-dimensional before we were able to tee off on him and get pressure on him,” Brooking said. “We were able to shut the running game down from the beginning. They really couldn’t sustain the run game at all.”

Steve Smith, the Panthers’ leading receiver, caught one pass for 19 yards – his lowest output since a one-catch game against Tampa Bay in Week 16 last season.

The Panthers will look to regroup next week against the Bucs, who improved to 5-4 with a 34-24 win over San Diego on Sunday. Tampa Bay throttled Carolina 16-10 in Week 1 to set the tone for what has been a disappointing season for the Panthers’ offense.

“Any time you lose by a lot and you don’t really give yourself a chance after the first quarter to be in the game, it’s tough,” Gross said. “We’ve got to get a lot better in a lot of areas.

“Defense played awesome, and we were far short of that on offense today.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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