Eagles

Broncos rally past Panthers for 1-point win in NFL season opener

Broncos rally past Panthers for 1-point win in NFL season opener

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DENVER -- Denver's dominant defense came up big against Cam Newton again and the Broncos escaped with a 21-20 victory over the Carolina Panthers Thursday night when Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining.

Newton was sacked three times and clobbered all night long but appeared to have done just enough to get a measure of revenge for that bludgeoning seven months earlier in Super Bowl 50, when Von Miller stripped the ball and the Lombardi Trophy from his grasp.

Newton put the Panthers on the cusp of victory with a 16-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin at the Denver 37 in the closing seconds, and another short pass to Ted Ginn Jr. put Gano well within his range.

"I was going to drill it, no doubt in my mind," said Gano, who was wide left. "But this happens. It's not going to define my season."

With the stadium rocking, Trevor Siemian trotted out to take a knee in victory formation after his successful first NFL start. Peyton Manning's successor finished 18 of 26 for 178 yards, one TD and two interceptions.

"We've got a heck of a team, a resilient team, I think you saw that tonight," said Siemian, who finished 18 of 26 for 178 yards with one TD, two interceptions and two sacks.

Newton, the NFL's reigning MVP, was 18 of 33 for 194 yards, with one TD and one interception.Just as he did over and over in the Super Bowl, Miller made a big play late, sweeping past right tackle Mike Remmers and sacking Newton.

That set up fourth-and-21 from the Carolina 29 at the 2-minute warning and Newton threw incomplete but got a reprieve: Cornerback Chris Harris Jr., whose interception led to Denver's go-ahead score minutes earlier, was called for illegal use of the hands, giving Carolina a first down.

Some of the hits on Newton pushed the rules.

Safety Darian Stewart's helmet-to-helmet hit in the final minute was negated because Newton, who was slow getting up, was called for intentional grounding on the play. Newton also took an inadvertent hit to the head from Miller on a sack by DeMarcus Ware. The QB went to the sideline and put a towel over his head as trainers checked him out.

The Panthers took a 17-7 led into the fourth quarter of the first Super Bowl rematch to start a season since 1970 but Siemian hit running back C.J. Anderson for a 25-yard touchdown on the next snap.

Newton's next pass was intercepted by Harris at the Carolina 23. Ten plays later, Anderson bulled his way in from the 1 to give Denver its first lead at 21-14 with 9:26 remaining.

After Gano's 36-yard field goal brought the Panthers to 21-20, Carolina forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at its 40 with 3:06 remaining.

Take a knee
Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, a college teammate of Colin Kaepernick, took to a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem during San Francisco's preseason games, explaining it was to protest racial oppression and police brutality in the United States. It opened a wide debate and put the microscope on a pregame tradition that has, for decades, been routine.

Old times
Manning made his first appearance at Mile High as a retiree, walking through the tunnel with the Lombardi Trophy. Earlier, he attended NFL Kickoff festivities in his role as pitchman for DirecTV, which sent out a video interview in which he was asked about the Broncos QB situation. "It's the most overanalyzed subject in the city," Manning said. "I'm proud to say I have not added to that analysis." He did say he spoke with Siemian on the eve of the opener and told him he was in his corner.

Field flip
Punter Andy Lee, who surrendered a Super Bowl-record 61-yard punt return to Jordan Norwood, pinned the Broncos back with a franchise-record 76-yard punt in the third quarter. His next punt traveled 61 yards.

Fullback fun
Rookie Andy Janovich was brought in to bore holes for Anderson, but he surprised the Panthers with a 28-yard TD run after Denver's first two drives ended in turnovers.

Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

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Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

He was among the NFL’s best in virtually every category. Fourth in passer rating. First in touchdown percentage. Eighth in interception percentage. Second in TD-to-INT ratio. He was even third in wins despite missing the last three regular-season games.

So what’s Carson Wentz’s approach going into 2018?

“I think we can improve everywhere,” he said. “Overall, I think we can keep making strides and keep our foot on the gas.”

And that starts with completion percentage.

Wentz completed just 60.2 percent of his passes last year, which ranked 23rd of 30 quarterbacks who threw at least 400 passes. 

Ahead of only Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, Mitch Trubisky, Cam Newton, Trevor Siemian, Jacoby Brissett and DeShone Kizer.

Not the kind of company he wants to keep.

Wentz was so good in every other area he still fashioned a passer rating over 100. In fact, his 101.9 rating was the highest in NFL history by a quarterback completing 60.2 percent of his passes (minimum 400 attempts).

The league average last year was 62 percent. And for the sake of comparison, Nick Foles completed 64.7 percent of his passes if you combine the regular season and postseason.

Wentz dropped from 62.4 percent as a rookie to 60.2 percent last year.

Among 36 active NFL quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 1,000 passes, Wentz’s 61.5 completion percentage ranks 21st.

 “I know I’d like to see my completions go higher,” Wentz said last week. “I think I was right around 60 percent and I expect more out of myself in that area.”

After 2016, Wentz identified red zone and third down as two areas he hoped to improve on. 

And he wound up leading the NFL in both red zone efficiency (NFL-best 116.3 passer rating) and third-down efficiency (NFL-best 123.7 rating).

“Third down, red zone, we were really good,” he said. “That’s something we really focused on from Year 1 to Year 2, but we (still) all feel we can definitely improve in those areas.”

Wentz also committed nine fumbles in 13 games, and only Jameis Winston and Russell Wilson had more.

“I think we had too many fumbles,” he said. “Balls on the ground too many times.”

Wentz, now nearly five months out from his knee injury, said he’s used a lot of his extra time at the NovaCare Complex this offseason focusing on what he can improve on in 2018, and one of those things is his upper-body strength.

“With all the extra rehab and not being able to run and do a lot of things early on you’ve really just got to focus on some different things and I got to do a lot of seated throwing and trying to build my arm strength and really take care of my upper body more than I have in the past,” he said.

“It’s been an interesting process not being able to get that true conditioning and that rehab in, but it’s exciting to start easing into the running and conditioning stuff. … 

“I feel good. I definitely feel working with the strength guys, we had some friendly competition stuff with the other (injured) guys in there rehabbing and I definitely feel like I’m making some strides in there.”

Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

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Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

The Eagles are scheduled to have a pretty boring Day 2 of the draft this year. Because after they pick at No. 32, they don’t have another selection until the 31st pick of the fourth round. 

That means 98 players will be taken between the Eagles’ first and second picks. And they’ll have to watch other teams pick that entire Friday (Rounds 2-3) without them … unless they make a move. 

“We’re not looking at it like we’re sitting out on Friday,” Eagles de facto GM Howie Roseman said. “We’re going through our draft process looking at every scenario. When we get to Friday, we get to Friday.” 

Even if the Eagles don’t make a move, they’ll be plenty busy Saturday, the final day of the draft. They have two fourth-round picks and one pick in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. 

Eagles personnel head Joe Douglas showed up to his media availability with a stat ready to go to illustrate the importance of Day 3. 

“We’re excited that we have five picks on Saturday,” Douglas said. “When you look at the Super Bowl, there’s 22 starters that were third-round picks or lower. Of those 22, 18 of them were fourth-round picks or lower. So 18 starters in the Super Bowl this year were fourth-round picks or lower, including six of them that were undrafted free agents. We choose to keep the glass half full.” 

Douglas is right on all those stats — 22 of 44 starters in the Super Bowl were drafted in the third or lower and 18 of them would be considered Day 3 picks. Not bad. 

Here’s how the Super Bowl starters broke down by round: 1-10, 2-12, 3-4, 4-4, 5-3, 6-3, 7-2, UDFA-6. 

The Eagles accounted for seven of the 18 players who were drafted in the fourth round or later, so the Patriots were the ones who found even more value late in drafts. And of those seven, just three were original Eagles — Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jason Kelce and Jalen Mills. 

Of the six undrafted players who started in the Super Bowl, two were from the Eagles — LeGarrette Blount and Rodney McLeod. Neither was an original Eagle, but the Birds also relied heavily on running back Corey Clement, who was an undrafted rookie last season. 

With a dearth of high draft picks, it would make sense if the Eagles attack the undrafted market following the draft, but Douglas thinks it won’t be as easy as many might think. 

“You would think because we’re coming off a Super Bowl, we don’t have a second or third round pick that it would be a lot easier after the draft,” Douglas said. “But my experience coming off a Super Bowl, it’s sometimes harder to get guys to commit to your roster because agents and players have a perceived notion that it’s going to be that much tougher to make the team. I think that’s going to be a challenge. I think that’s going to be a challenge for us and we know it and we’re going to attack it.”

The Eagles in recent years have shown a willingness to pony up significant money to entice undrafted players to sign with them, and if Douglas is right, they might need to do it again to land some this year. 

Either way, the Eagles know how important Day 3 and beyond can be. So when they’re bored on Day 2, they don’t plan on losing focus.