CHARLOTTE -- Through the first quarter, it looked like it was going to be more of the same.
But the Carolina Panthers defense tightened after some early problems, leading them to a 30-10 win over Denver.
It was going to be a challenge coming in, since the Broncos had the league's second-ranked offense and appeared ready to pass on a team that had sprung leaks in the secondary.
But then the Panthers did what they had not lately -- started making plays.
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Even in last week's win over Tampa Bay, it was the 299 rushing yards that stole the show, leaving the once-proud defense a bit of an afterthought.
"We knew it was something we needed to tighten up," safety Chris Harris said. "Guys were upset, they showed the highlight film from Tampa Bay, and there were no defensive highlights on it.
"Guys were a little upset about that, and we wanted to make sure we got on the highlight tape today."
The Panthers did just that, limiting the Broncos to 279 yards (114 under their average). They sacked quarterback Jay Cutler three times, after he had only been dropped eight times all season.
"It was definitely something different for us today because I haven't seen that since last year," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall said of the pressure.
But early on, it looked like Denver was going to be the one applying, rather than receiving, pressure.
A quick opening drive ended with a touchdown when cornerback Richard Marshall and linebacker Thomas Davis got their wires crossed. That left running back P.J. Pope wide open for a 7-yard touchdown pass. That left the Panthers' nickel corner fuming, angry again that a blown coverage had cost the Panthers points.
"Me and T.D. just didn't communicate right," he said. "If we'd have played it how we were supposed to, if I'd have got outside, and he came back inside, I'd have been right there for the throw to the running back. That's why I was mad, because if we'd have played it right, it wouldn't have been a touchdown and they'd have had to settle for three points.
"After that, we came to the sideline, we talked, said 'Get on the same page. Everybody get on the same page and communicate, go back out there and play hard.'"
They did that, holding the Broncos to a field goal on the next possession, and nothing else the rest of the day.
"I wish we could get started faster," middle linebacker Jon Beason said. "But once we settle down, we are a pretty tough group."
Harris said defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac settled the defense on the sidelines, got everyone clear about what needed to happen.
"You just come to the sideline and talk about it," Harris said. "It was a miscommunication on the touchdown they got. We come to the sideline, draw it up, talk about it, so hopefully it doesn't happen again."
It didn't. The Panthers picked Cutler off once (by Chris Gamble), but they could have had at least three more, as Gamble, defensive end Charles Johnson and safety Charles Godfrey each dropped passes they had hands on.
While that has been a quibble over the course of the season, there was no disputing the defense had underperformed in the second half. They thought they turned the corner a week ago, but didn't step up and exert themselves until Sunday.
"We didn't think that we played up to our potential the last couple of games," Godfrey said. "That was a chip on our shoulder coming in. We knew we had to come out and play a great game. We didn't want those guys to score that 10, but we knew that after that, they weren't getting nothing else."