The 2016 NFL season kicked off last night with a thrilling rematch of last season’s Super Bowl that saw the Denver Broncos edge the Carolina Panthers 21-20 at Mile High.
Gano's last-minute field goal miss gifts Denver a winning start
Panthers kicker Graham Gano failed to convert a 50-yard field goal in the final seconds of the game and gifted the reigning champion Broncos a winning start to the season after overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit.
Unfancied quarterback Trever Siemian, staring for Denver following an offseason filled with uncertainty, made the most of his first-ever NFL start to overcome 2 interceptions and rallied the Broncos to hold on for the win.
Siemian, an unexpected starter for the reigning Super Bowl champions
Siemian, a seventh-round pick out of Northwestern University in 2015, was thrust into the limelight this offseason following the retirement of five-time league MVP Peyton Manning and the shock decision of long-time backup and apparent successor Brock Osweiler to join the Houston Texans in free agency. After beating out pick-happy journeyman Mark Sanchez in training camp, Siemian has gone from being a player no one was talking about to the starting quarterback for the defending Super Bowl champions.
"He was just as poised and calm as we expected him to be," said running back CJ Anderson, who caught one touchdown pass and ran for another to help the Broncos secure their fourth straight home opener.
His good performance and second-half recovery against the formidable Panthers defence will be a huge relief to the Broncos who began this season with questions surrounding their offence. Siemian credited his teammates with helping him get through his opening start jitters. "I’ve got a lot of guys to lean on," he said.
Broncos recover from poor first half to overcome Panthers
Before the game, Denver showed off the Lombardi Trophy as Manning and general manager John Elway paraded it in front of the cheering crowd at Mile High.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton ran for a score, passed for another and led the Panthers to within field goal range in the final seconds, but Gano's long try was wide left. Dominating possession time and twice thwarting Denver drives by forcing turnovers, Carolina took a 17-7 halftime lead.
"We just went back into the locker room and said we were making too many mistakes," said Broncos veteran linebacker DeMarcus Ware. "We said 'let's get our composure and go out and play ball the way we know how.'"
Anderson converted a fourth-and-one play in the fourth quarter to give the Broncos a fresh set of downs inside Carolina's two-yard line and then charged his way into the end zone to put Denver in front for the first time.
Newton drove the Panthers to the Broncos’ 18 in response but his third-down pass for second-year wide-out Devin Funchess was knocked down by cornerback Aqib Talib, leading to Gano's 36-yard field goal with 4:21 remaining to pull Carolina to within a point.
After forcing a Denver punt, Carolina recovered the ball on the 40-yard line with 3:06 left. Denver's defence induced a false start penalty followed by successive sacks of Newton by Ware and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, but an illegal hands to the face penalty against Denver's Chris Harris negated a fourth-down incompletion and extended Carolina's last-ditch drive. With just 9 seconds left to play, Gano fired his 50-yard field goal attempt wide to the left.