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Darnold leads Panthers to win over Broncos; 23-10

The Carolina Panthers earned their fourth win of the season in Sam Darnold's first start at quarterback of the season.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Both the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos probably thought their seasons would be different at this point in the year.

The Panthers and Broncos acquired quarterbacks in trades during the offseason that they hoped would lead them back to the playoffs. Carolina added Baker Mayfield from Cleveland and Denver scored Russell Wilson from Seattle.

But instead of their Week 12 matchup being a meeting between two contenders, both teams entered the game with just three wins each and are fighting more for draft positions than playoff spots as their quarterback play ranks near the bottom of the league.

In what was quite a far cry from their Super Bowl 50 matchup, the Panthers eased past the Broncos in a 23-10 rout at home.

Sam Darnold made his first start at quarterback, replacing the struggling Mayfield. Darnold missed the first 10 weeks of the season due to an injury, giving way for PJ Walker to start a few games.

Darnold got the Panthers on the scoreboard first late in the first quarter with a five-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore. 

Denver did not gain a first down until the second quarter. After gaining their first of the game, the Broncos were quickly forced to punt but caught a break when Carolina's Raheem Blackshear muffed the punt and gave Denver the ball deep in Panthers' territory.

The Broncos only managed a field goal, though, which the Panthers matched on their next drive.

Wilson fumbled on the ensuing drive after being sacked by Brian Burns. Carolina went three and out on the following drive, though.

The Panthers' longest drive was capped off by one of the oddest scores of the season. Darnold was stripped of the ball while trying to run for a score from the 2-yard line and immediately fell on the ball before rolling into the endzone for a fumble recovery touchdown.

Carolina pretty much cruised the rest of the way from there. The Panthers added a few field goals to extend the margin to 23-3 with under nine minutes to go. 

Denver finally got in the endzone after a 14-play drive that saw Wilson slowly but surely lead the team downfield. The drive featured a nullified touchdown, a 4th & Goal from the 18-yard line that only continued the drive due to a roughing the passer penalty, and some classic Russell Wilson scrambling that eventually led to a 1-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Johnson.

The Broncos remarkably recovered an onside kick following the score after Denver's special teams unit forced Carolina's Sam Franklin the fumble the kickoff. Denver turned the ball over after four incomplete passes, however.

From there, Carolina ran the clock out and mercifully gained their fourth win of the season to improve to 4-8 on the year. The Broncos, meanwhile, fell to 3-8 as both teams sit last in their divisions. 

Next week, the Panthers will be on a bye week and await a Week 14 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks (6-4) on Dec. 11.

The Broncos, meanwhile, will face the Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

This article will be updated.

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