The Denver Broncos came into Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers looking to stay atop the AFC West and maintain their lead on the San Diego Chargers in the AFC West. Peyton Manning and the Broncos previously claimed AFC superiority when they came back from a 24-point deficit to beat the Chargers in Week 6.
Apparently, the defense and special teams got tired of Manning stealing all of the spotlight, because they contributed 16 points to help the Broncos win for the second-straight week on the road, 36-14. The Broncos have now won four straight and lead the AFC West by two full games. The Chargers have lost two of the three games.
Return specialist Trindon Holliday returned a punt 76 yards in the second quarter to put the Broncos up by seven points, and cornerback Tony Carter pick off Cam Newton and returned it for a touchdown to make it 24-7 in the third quarter. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil each had one sack and one forced fumble. The Denver defense sacked Cam Newton a total of seven times, including one that resulted in a safety.
The defense has really come on strong since the bye week three weeks ago. A big part of the their success has to do with getting an early lead and then turning Miller and the rest of the defensive line loose against the opposing team’s O-line. The Broncos had a nasty habit of falling behind early during the first six games of the season and needed Manning to save their bacon.
With superstars Miller and Manning on opposite sides of the ball, the Broncos are a team designed to get and hold early leads. The defense was built the same way in Indianapolis for years when Manning was a perennial Super Bowl contender. Now the Broncos are serious contenders and should be able to string together an impressive streak of wins against lesser opponents over the final seven weeks of the season.
Denver’s return game was putrid prior to claiming Trindon Holliday off of waivers on October 11. Holliday has now returned a kick and punt for a touchdown this season and has even gotten a few opportunities to test his speed on offense.
If there is an area of concern, it’s that the Broncos fumbled three times and lost two of them against the Panthers. Turnovers are something the coaching staff is going to want to less of because the Broncos won’t be able to get away with those mistakes against good teams.
Thankfully for the offense, the defense kept bailing them out. Manning fumbled, but a play later Carter picked off Cam Newton and returned in 40 yards for a touchdown. Willis McGahee lost one of his two fumbles, but the defense forced a three-and-out on the following drive.
Manning was still great, but the team didn’t require him to be super human. He completed 71 percent of his passes for 301 yards and a touchdown. Demaryius Thomas caught nine passes for 135 yards and continues to be one of Manning’s favorite targets.