Broncos top Panthers; Manning ties Marino on TD list
Denver coach John Fox made a successful return against his former team at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday behind offensive, defensive and special teams play.
The Broncos scored touchdowns in all three phases of the game, knocking off the Carolina Panthers 36-14 for their fourth-straight road victory of the season.
Fox, who served as Carolina head coach from 2002-10, downplayed the significance of a victory against his old squad.
"This game is fun when you win," he said. "Obviously, any time you get a victory on the road, it is doubly tough. I think the guys kind of knew what this was going to be like for me."
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Sunday's defeat might have been the most difficult of the season so far.
"This is tough because again this is really only the second time we've lost a game like this this year," he said. "We've played hard enough and given ourselves a chance down the stretch to win a football game. To have one of these, especially after coming off of the Washington win, it is tough. It is a very tough pill to swallow right now."
The Panthers (2-7) looked strong early, taking a 7-0 lead when Cam Newton threw a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen.
Quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (6-3) answered with a score of their own later in the first quarter.
Manning's 10-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley knotted the game at 7-7 after one quarter of play.
More importantly, the play tied Manning with Hall of Fame signal-caller Dan Marino for second all time on the NFL's passing touchdown list with 420 TD tosses.
"Dan Marino, after my dad retired, was my favorite quarterback growing up," Manning said. "I think it is pretty well documented through the years when I've been asked about Dan Marino how I feel about him. I've never felt comfortable kind of being mentioned amongst him. A lot of players have caught a lot of those touchdowns. So I'm grateful for all of the receivers and the protection that I've received along the way. Marino is one of my all-time favorites. He has been very good to me since he stopped playing. I've really appreciated his friendship."
Special teams helped Denver take the lead permanently in the contest in the opening moments of the second quarter.
Trindon Holliday, who with the Houston Texans scored on a 90-yard kickoff return in the preseason against the Panthers in August, made another huge special teams play against Carolina.
Holliday — the NFL's smallest player at 5-foot-5 — took a punt by Brad Nortman 76 yards in 20 seconds on the opening play of the second quarter.
"That (return) was an explosive play in the game that changed the momentum at the point," Fox said.
Denver kicker Matt Prater added a 53-yard field goal on the Broncos' first offensive possession of the second quarter, and the team's traded missed 43-yard field goals by Prater and Carolina's Justin Medlock before halftime.
The Broncos led 17-7 at the break.
Carolina's defense tried to keep it in Sunday's game in the second half.
After the Panthers 'O' went three-and-out to start the third quarter, Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson sacked Manning and forced a fumble, which was recovered by teammate Greg Hardy.
Johnson forced two fumbles in Sunday's contest.
"Our defense played phenomenal today, containing a good offense for the most part of the game," Newton said. "We know that any team in this league that is the only thing you can do is contain them. Sooner or later, plays are going to be made. Causing turnovers is what we want from our defense. They accepted that challenge and made plays. We've just got to do better on offense."
Denver's defense also made some key plays, including defensive back Tony Carter returning an interception of Newton 40 yards for a touchdown.
The Broncos also sacked Newton seven times — the most he has been brought down in a game in his career. One of those sacks — by strong safety Mike Adams in the end zone — cost Carolina two points with a safety.
"Our defense was pretty awesome today," Manning said. "I can't tell you what that does for the entire team, especially the offense … Defense and special teams were awesome today."
Fox was pleased with his entire team's effort against the Panthers.
"You strive for perfection, but it never happens," he said. "We played well enough in each phase that were all factors in the game."
Prater connected on his second field goal in the second half from 27 yards out to extend the Denver lead to 20.
Carolina continued to try and chip away at its deficit.
Newton hooked up with Olsen for a second passing touchdown to make it a 29-14 Broncos' lead, but a five-yard touchdown run by Ronnie Hillman closed out the game for Denver.
Olsen caught a career-high nine passes for 102 yards and two scores, while Newton finished with 241 passing yards.
Manning led Denver by completing 27-of-38 passes for 301 yards and one touchdown in Sunday's game. Wideout Demaryius Thomas caught nine of those passes for a game-high 135 receiving yards.
Denver tries to continue its roll at home next week when it faces San Diego (4-5) — a team it trailed 24-0 early in a game Oct. 15 before scoring five unanswered touchdowns to win 35-24.
Carolina hosts division rival Tampa Bay (5-4), looking for revenge from a 16-10 season-opening loss Sept. 9 at Raymond James Stadium.