Drew Lock threw for 280 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, Diontae Spencer returned a punt 83 yards for his first career score and the Denver Broncos held on to beat the Carolina Panthers 32-27 on Sunday.
Lock connected on touchdown throws of 49 and 37 yards to rookie KJ Hamler and also threw scoring strikes to Nick Vannett and Tim Patrick to help the Broncos snap a two-game losing streak.
The Broncos (5-8) sacked Teddy Bridgewater four times, including one by Dre’Mont Jones on Carolina’s final possession in which the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.
Teddy Bridgewater completed 15 straight passes at one point and threw for 283 yards in the loss for the Panthers (4-9), who have lost seven of their last eight.
Mike Davis’ second touchdown run of the game with with 3:26 left cut Denver’s lead to 32-25 and the Panthers lined up for an apparent onside kick.
But instead, Joey Slye squib-kicked the ball down the field and Carolina pinned Denver at the 7. They forced a quick three-and-out to get the ball back with 2:48 left in the game — plenty of time to pull out a victory.
But the Broncos held when Curtis Samuel was tackled well short of the first down marker on a fourth-and-8 pass play underneath the coverage.
Hamler, the team’s second-round draft pick, twice beat veteran cornerback Rasul Douglas for touchdowns.
The Broncos took advantage of a big special teams play and some costly Carolina penalties to take a 13-7 lead at halftime.
Spencer, activated from reserve/COVID-19 list this week, gave the Broncos an early 6-0 lead when he received a punt, sidestepped one tackler and raced 83 yards for a touchdown.
The Panthers took a 7-6 lead on a 3-yard touchdown run by Davis, but two defensive penalties on the ensuing drive proved costly. Brian Burns was flagged for roughing the passer on a third-down incompletion and linebacker Jermaine Carter penalized for taunting after a run stop near the goal line setting up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Lock to Vannett for the 13-7 lead.
BRONCOS HEALTH CONCERNS
Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles was declared inactive before the game after he came down with an illness Sunday morning, and tight end Noah Fant left in the first quarter when he became sick and did not return.
“We think it’s just a stomach thing,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said.
Fangio said Bolles and Fant were tested for COVID-19 and the rapid tests came back negative. He said both players will remain behind in Charlotte for the night and if they test negative will return to Denver on a private flight Monday.
CHINN DOES IT AGAIN
Panthers rookie linebacker Jeremy Chinn, who had two fumble returns for touchdowns in Carolina’s 28-27 loss to the Vikings, came up with another big play, sacking Lock and stripping him him of the ball. Efe Obada snatched the loose ball and returned it to the Denver 3, setting up a TD run by Davis.
The Panthers repeatedly hurt themselves with costly penalties.
In the second quarter alone, Brian Burns was flagged for roughing the passer on a third-down incompletion and linebacker Jermaine Carter penalized for taunting after a run stop near the goal line setting up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Lock to Vannett for the 13-7 Denver lead.
“The ref called some good calls for them on third downs, basically,” Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson said.
Broncos: Reserve cornerback Duke Dawson was carted off the field in the first quarter after a non-contact injury to his left knee and did not return. Dawson was rushing the quarterback when he tried to stop and make a cut, only to have his leg buckle. Fangio was uncertain of the extent of the injury.
Panthers: Running back Christian McCaffrey missed his 10th game this season with an injury.
Broncos: Host the Bills on Saturday.
Panthers: Travel to face the Packers on Saturday night.