SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – Even Peyton Manning realizes he’s ready for the regular season. Or at least darn close.
Manning threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas and dominated in his two series, leading the Denver Broncos past the San Francisco 49ers 34-0 on Sunday to spoil the NFL debut at sparkling $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium.
“It’s been a good start. That’s all it is, though,” Manning said. “We’ve still got some things we have to improve on.”
The 38-year-old Manning, beginning his 17th season after throwing for an NFL-record 55 touchdowns last year, completed 12 of 14 passes for 102 yards and a 120.8 rating. He was 8-for-8 on Denver’s second drive, then backup Brock Osweiler took over and threw for a score and led another touchdown drive in a preseason matchup of the past two Super Bowl losers.
Colin Kaepernick went 5-for-9 for 39 yards in his two series before a sellout crowd at the team’s flashy new digs in the heart of Silicon Valley. Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes beat the Seattle Sounders in the stadium’s first sporting event Aug. 2.
Demaryius Thomas had three catches on Denver’s opening drive, including a 20-yard gain. That gives Thomas 10 receptions for 89 yards in Denver’s two victories against the NFC West’s powerhouses, the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco.
“Coming off last year, losing the Super Bowl like we did, coming into OTAs I think everybody had a different mindset,” Demaryius Thomas said. “You can see it with older guys, new guys. Our main thing was going out and being able to convert, and as a defense stop guys. If we’re going to be stopped, we’re going to stop ourselves.”
C.J. Anderson ran for a 1-yard TD, while Matt Prater kicked a 26-yard field goal and Mitch Ewald added a late 22-yarder. San Francisco’s typically spot-on Phil Dawson sailed two long kicks wide right.
Denver did it on defense, too, getting two interceptions and a fumble recovery and a goal-line stand to end the game. The Broncos recovered another fumble on special teams.
“It was a great moment for our defense,” defensive lineman Marvin Austin said. “It’s real hard to put up a goose egg in a preseason game.”
Panthers 28, Chiefs 16: In Charlotte, if Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has his way, Cam Newton won’t be running as many read-option plays as he has in the past.
If Jonathan Stewart runs the way he did Sunday night, Newton won’t need to.
Newton made a successful return following ankle surgery, Stewart ran for two touchdowns and the Panthers beat the Chiefs in a preseason game.
Newton completed 4 of 9 passes for 65 yards and led a pair of touchdown drives before exiting late in the second quarter with Carolina (1-1) up 14-6. Stewart ran for 26 yards on four carries and made a strong case to be the Panthers’ goal-line back — if not their primary ball carrier — with scoring runs of 3 and 2 yards.
Newton has been hit more than any quarterback in the NFL over the past three seasons and Rivera has said he’d like to reduce the wear and tear on his franchise quarterback.
“If we can run the ball effectively with the backs and not have to rely on him running we would much rather do that,” Rivera said.
And that’s fine with Newton.
“I’m trying to win football games and if that is saying, ‘Cam hand the ball off every play. Cam run the ball down the field 20 yards like a chicken with his head cut off every play. Cam drop back and throw the ball. Cam go get everybody a drink of water.’ . . . Whatever is asked of me, I will do to try to win the football game,” Newton said.