First quarter: Broncos 10, Panthers 0
Analysis: The vaunted Denver Broncos’ defense won the quarter. Cam Newton, named the league’s MVP on Saturday, looked tight with a couple of overthrows. Meanwhile, the Broncos’ defense was playing at its usual high speed and caused all kinds of problems for the Carolina Panthers, who averaged 40 points in their two playoff victories. Against the Broncos, the Panthers managed only 28 yards of total offense. Wade Phillips' Denver defense harassed Tom Brady two weeks ago, and they did the same to Newton to open the game.
Key play: Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller got the heat on Newton from the left side against right tackle Mike Remmers on a third-and-10 play from the Panthers’ own 15-yard line. Miller went for the sack-strip and got it. Defensive end Malik Jackson recovered the ball in the end zone to give Denver a 10-0 lead midway through the quarter.
This ‘n’ that: The Broncos were situated on the sunny side of Levi’s Stadium, but when the game kicked off at 3:39 p.m., the sideline was already covered in shadows. . . Peyton Manning connected on three of his first four pass attempts for 46 yards, including a 22-yarder to Andre Caldwell to help set up Brandon McManus’ 34-yard field goal with 10:43 left in the quarter. . . . Panthers cornerback Robert McClain nearly missed a possible pick-six when he undercut running back Ronnie Hillman’s sideline route to break up Manning’s pass on the opening drive. . . Cam Newton might have shown some nerves when zipped his first pass attempt several feet over a wide-open Corey Brown on the left side. . . Panthers coach Ron Rivera threw the challenge flag to dispute a call that Jerricho Cotchery did not hold onto a pass down the middle. Referee Clete Blakeman, and director of officiating Dean Blandino, ruled that it was an incomplete pass, despite replays appearing to show the ball never hit the ground. . . Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart sustained a left foot injury on his second rushing attempt. He was listed as questionable to return. Stewart had 189 yards and two TDs in the Panthers’ first two playoff games. . . Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib gave Carolina new lift after safety Darian Stewart appeared to end another drive with a sack. But Talib was flagged for taunting, which gave the Panthers a first down. But they could not take advantage, as the Broncos defense stiffened and forced a punt. . . The Panthers stopped a Denver possession with a sack of their own when linebacker Luke Kuechly threw Manning for a 9-yard sack on a third-and-3 play from the Denver 20.