CHARLOTTE – Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott couldn't be more disappointed in the outcome in four of the Panthers' last five games, but he couldn't be more pleased with his unit's effort in the face of four losses.
"I'm not taking anything away about wins and losses – that's the most important thing in our business – but I've got a goal as a defensive coordinator and a vision, and we're moving toward that vision," McDermott said following Sunday's loss to the Denver Broncos. "Anybody at the game saw that those guys played tough, aggressive football through the end of the game."
In the four games before Sunday, opponents had averaged 17.8 points, a number that included an interception returned for a touchdown. Opposing offenses drove for touchdowns just five times in those four games.
Denver scored 36 points against the Panthers, but that total included interception and punt returns for touchdowns, as well as a safety. The defense held Peyton Manning and Co. to one touchdown and two field goals before yielding a touchdown in the final four minutes.
"Anytime you can hold a team to 13 points as long as we did, particularly with a quarterback like Peyton Manning, you've got a lot working for you," McDermott said. "I was extremely happy with the effort. I thought we played inspired football, emotional football on the defensive side of the ball. We've got to continue to make progress."
OFFENSE SPUTTERS: The Panthers offense had run the ball well and converted on third down the previous two weeks against Chicago and Washington, but the unit took a step backwards against an impressive Denver defense.
The Broncos limited Carolina to 52 rushing yards – the Panthers' lowest total since the season opener – and 0-for-12 on third down. They also sacked quarterback Cam Newton a season-high seven times.
"That's an outstanding defense," Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "They've got guys that can rush the passer and guys that can cover. It was a big challenge for us.
"Early in the game, I think the protection was solid. Obviously as the game went on, it wasn't where it needed to be. We need to make corrections and fix that."
Chudzinski is trying to improve the offense behind a makeshift offensive line that has played the last four games without Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, who is on injured reserve with a foot injury. Kalil's injury and an early season-ending shoulder injury to backup guard/center Mike Pollak forced the Panthers to move right guard Geoff Hangartner to center.
"Obviously anytime you lose a Pro Bowler and a leader like that, it's tough," Chudzinski said. "Between Ryan and Mike Pollak - who was our next guy up - we had to move Geoff over to center. I think he's adjusted to that, and then we've shuffled and tried a couple of different combinations.
"But that's where we're at. We have to find a way to get it done."
TOUGH CALL: Denver's punt return for a touchdown should have been nullified by game officials, the NFL said in a statement.
Early in the second quarter of a 7-7 game, Broncos wide receiver Trindon Holliday scooted down the right sideline for a 76-yard score. Every scoring play is automatically reviewed in the replay booth, but officials undoubtedly focused on whether Holliday had stepped out of bounds near midfield with Panthers punter Brad Nortman closing in and didn't notice that Holliday dropped the ball just short of the goal line in the open field.
"Because the video showed that Holliday lost possession of the ball before it broke the plane of the goal line, (replay official Bob) Boylston should have stopped the game to initiate an instant replay review," the league said in a statement. "Had that occurred, (referee Alberto) Riveron would have had the indisputable visual evidence necessary to overturn the on-field ruling.
"The result of the play should have been a touchback - not a touchdown - with Carolina gaining possession at the 20 yard-line."