It seems fitting that the NFL rang in the season with the same two teams that closed it out last year. And though Thursday night’s game between Carolina and Denver was considered a Super Bowl 50 matchup, both teams underwent a lot of changes in the offseason.
But where Carolina’s changes mostly improved their roster, Denver lost huge pieces of their team, and still came out on top.
Here’s why Denver fans have a lot to look forward to this season.
Trevor Siemian is basically a rookie, but he didn’t play like one:
Earlier this week, John Elway told his starting quarterback that he would make mistakes in his regular-season debut, but not to worry about them. Gary Kubiak told Siemian to remain his “confident self.”
Both those things are easier said than done for veteran quarterbacks, and most especially after throwing an interception. But while Siemian is just two years into the league, he played with all of the composure of an experienced player.
Nerves had to be high for Siemian on NFL kickoff night, with Broncos legends watching from the sidelines and thousands of doubtful fans scrutinizing his every move.
And even after an unlucky tip led to an interception, and a bad throw led to another interception, Siemian never played scared. In fact, he stayed bold with the ball and continued to command the huddle.
He finished the game 18/26 with 178 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Denver’s defense already shook off the rust:
Thursday night was truly a tale of two halves for the Denver defense. Carolina scored 17 of their 20 points in the first half, and two-thirds of their yardage. The holes left by Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson seemed too big to fill, Demarcus Ware looked tired and Von Miller had zero sacks.
But Wade Phillips must have given one heck of a halftime speech, because the defense came out in midseason form in the second half. Chris Harris Jr. picked off Cam Newton; Ware, Todd Davis and Miller notched sacks; and most importantly, the Panthers were held to a single field goal.
Newton was hit 17 times — second most in his career — Thursday night, and controversy has risen up over the cleanliness of play from Denver. Either way, there is no doubt about the future of the Broncos defense. They are fierce as ever and ready to play.
Carolina came into the season ranked No. 1, and Denver came out on top:
A one-point victory thanks to a missed field goal may not be the prettiest outcome, but a win’s a win. Carolina was favored in the spread, and entered the 2016 season at the top of the pile.
Newton and Ron Rivera had their revenge planned, but it was not to be. Though Denver did not perform at the highest level in any area of play — defense, offense or special teams — they were able to come away victorious against a very good Carolina team.
For many teams, the first couple weeks of the NFL season are like a warm-up — nobody is performing at optimum level. With a crop of first-year starters taking the field, Denver needed just a half to warm up and start looking like the well-oiled machine of last year.
Offensively, trading Peyton Manning for Siemian will obviously mean a different look, but if Siemian can minimize the turnovers and still move down the field, Denver will be in good shape.