Oct 8, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Trindon Holliday (16) on a kickoff return against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Denver Leads Carolina at the Half, 17-7

Cecil, my two year old cat, is now comfortable lying on my left ankle. With all that youthful energy, he can be calm and sweet – when he wants to be. He’s a CAT! All is right with the world.

Carolina got the ball for the opening kickoff at their 20. A short pass for 4 yards and then a 15-yard run by Jonathan Stewart got the offense off to a good start. After another short pass, Newton narrowly avoided a sack on 2nd and 5, gaining a yard on a scramble, but was tackled/sacked on a scramble when Von Miller corralled him. An oddly nice 50-yard punt by Brad Nortman was not fair-caught and the returner was pinned at the Broncos’ 7 but for some inexplicable reason started a their own 14. Dang those commercials!

Doesn’t matter. On third and one, Carolina’s own “CJ2K” – Charles Johnson – tackled Willis McGahee for a loss, forcing a Broncos’ punt. This is the sort of thing we need to see against a potent offense that is still on the upswing. Johnson could have a shot at his first pro-bowl this year and would be deserving not only for his sacks but his all-around tough defense and being a complete defensive end. While he doesn’t wildly excel in any one particular area, he’s very good at just about everything.

And why do they keep covering up the Panthers’ cheerleaders with corporate logos on the screen? They just are telling me whom NOT to do business with doing that stufF!

Anyway…

The Panthers got the punt and Newton lofted a beautiful pass over defenders to hit Greg Olson on the right side for a 26 yard gain to cross midfield as Miller tweaked his ankle and had to go to the sidelines for a tape job. Newton took advantage and hit mountainous Mike (Tolbert) on a screen pass. The guy reminds me of Jerome Bettis – a huge man with wonderful feet – and boy that’s scary to tackle when he gets up a head of steam like that…so another nice play for the Panthers.

After a short run, Cam hit Olsen on the right side again, taking it down to the four yard line to set up a first and goal. A good play-action fake saw Olson slide behind the line of scrimmage to the left side in the flat. Wide open. Touchdown. Key player: Greg Olson – 3 rec 46 yards and a TD. Brilliantly-designed play where Olson engaged a blocker, rode him to the weak side, and released. The Broncos’ defense never had a chance on that one, frankly. Chud got them that TD with a series of great play calls. He has it in him to do it – as long as he doesn’t fall back on that darned read/option much.

Carolina 7, Denver 0

November 4, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) celebrates with Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) after catching a touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

On the next series, Eric Decker was wide-open and dropped a soft pass that was perhaps a tad too short, but bounced off his left shoulder. It wasn’t a perfect pass, but receivers are paid to make those plays. It wouldn’t have been a difficult catch. Punt to the Carolina 7.

Cecil seems singularly unimpressed and is dreaming – probably about chasing mice or opening a can of it on Mick, the other, older cat. Whatever.

On third and 8, Newton overthrew his receiver while Amini Silatolu got flagged for hands to the face anyhow, but at least it was in the field of play and not a safety. Nortman had and impressive kick, returned 7 yards to the Bronco 40 for a 50-yard net punt.

Things reasonably seem to be going the Panthers’ way…so far. But I know any offense led by a guy whose last name is “Manning” is trouble. I say, put in Archie.

Alas, they left Peyton in his place and he threw a 30-yard completion to get them into field goal range. Another pass for a first down put them at the ten.

Here’s where the Panthers’ tough red-zone defense needs to assert itself, but Manning rolled out and threw across his body to a wide-open Brandon Stokely in the middle of the field who walked into the end zone. Manning and Stokely go waaay back and in fact Manning was the QB in Indy when Stokely had his only thousand-yard receiving season of his career.

It was the pot-smoking career TD for Manning, bringing his total to 420, tying the great Dan Marino for 2nd all-time. I’m thinking how unfortunate it is that the best passer in NFL history (Marino) wound up with a career TD total of such a number, but a lot of QBs would kill to have 420 career TDs. Think of it – that’s 21 TD passes per season every season for TWENTY YEARS!

Game tied at 7.

Panthers’ ball at their own 20. I spoke too soon – a read/option run left gained 6 yards. On 3rd and 4, the most bizarre play happened.

Elvis Dumervil, having not yet left the building, swiped the ball out of Newton’s hand for a fumble. The ball was kicked forward, then back again and Newton fell on it. THAT was close!

– end of first quarter –

The second quarter began with a resounding groan. Nortman out-kicked his coverage and the special teams kick coverage failed the Panthers once again as Trindon Holliday returned the punt for 76 yards to the end zone. Nortman was the last man covering and the punter is supposed to make sure if nothing else, he doesn’t let the returner get by him down the sideline. He’s supposed to at LEAST force the returner back inside if he cannot push him out of bounds.

To add to the stinkiness of the play, Holliday actually pulled a rookie DeSean Jackson move and let the ball go a foot before crossing the plane. It should have been a touchback, but the PAT was launched in a hurry and the miscue wasn’t caught.

Broncos 14, Panthers 7.

The Panthers took over at their own 20 and had a 3-and-out. Newton started the game 6-for-6 and missed his last 5 passes as he was hit on thrid and ten, forcing a fluttering incompletion.

After a punt, the Broncos drove for a couple of first downs but Sherrod Martin made a good open-field tackle on a screen, forcing a long FG attempt by Matt Praeter.

He nailed the 53-yd attempt.

Denver 17, Carolina 7.

Finally, on 3rd and 8, Cam completed a pass to Louis Murphy, who was flagged for offensive pass interference on a questionable call forcing a third and 18. A short pass to Olson fell far short of the first down and the Panthers were forced to punt once again. It’s their 3rd “3 and out” in the last 4 series.

The Broncos got the punt and began a new drive, crossing the 50 again, and I’m beginning to see a blowout forming. Manning is worth every penny he’s being paid as he just puts the ball EXACTLY where he wants it – almost every single time.

Rookie MLB Luke Kuechly stuffed a 2nd and 2, reminding the Broncos that running on the Panthers isn’t so easy these days. Manning hit McGahee with a pass in the flat to get the first down. So far, he’s missed only the one dropped pass I mentioned before and is 13-of-14 at this point.

Once more, the Carolina defense doesn’t give on a second and short, forcing another third-and-two. Hillman caught a swing pass and was apparently short of a third down, but got a horrible spot that John Fox decided not to challenge and left the offense on the field on 4th and a full yard to go before the 2-minute warning hit.

Matt Prater’s second long FG attempt of the day missed wide right.

Still 17-7, Broncos.

On the next play, Newton hit Steve Smith with a rifle bullet over the middle and Smith’s first catch of the day. Jonathan Stewart took a screen pass down to the 29 yard line, putting the Panthers in FG range in two plays, but had the time and timeouts to try for a TD.

Cam threw the ball away on a heavy rush and was shaken up on the hit by Robert Ayers as he got twisted around a couple of times and his legs got all turned around, but the Panthers called a timeout to let him walk it off. On third and ten, Cam decided to take off under heavy duress once more, but fell down after 5 yards and I could see the look of discomfort on his face when he planted and tried to cut to avoid a defender. Instead of cutting, he crumpled. VERY concerning event.

Medlock missed the FG attempt as the ball looked good to start but slid left at the end, barely brushing the outside of the left upright.

STILL 17-7, Broncos.

Manning hit Eric Decker on the right side with 34 seconds left to move the ball to their own 46. On the next play, the defense got called for holding Brandon Stokely. The Broncos moved to th Panthers’ 49 on the 5-yard penalty.

Stokley looked to have caught a pass but was called incomplete at the 25. We waited as the booth reviewed it since it was under 2 minutes. The replay looked inconclusive, depending upon the angle, so the call on the field should stand as incomplete.

Another incomplete pass left 9 seconds on the clock as Josh Norman was right on the play. I really like the way this rookie 6th-round corner is playing…a rare Marty Hurney late-round steal, apparently.

The half expired with a Broncos punt that they downed inside the ten. Don’t forget, the Broncos get the ball to start the second half…not looking good so far.

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