Panthers 30, Broncos 10

By: AP
By: AP
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In front of their ailing owner, the Carolina Panthers finished off a perfect regular season at home with a dominating performance that had to make Jerry Richardson proud.

Four days after it was announced Richardson needs a heart transplant, he checked out of the hospital and was in his familiar spot in his end zone suite, watching Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams power the Panthers past the Denver Broncos 30-10 on Sunday.

In clinching at least a tie for the NFC South title and moving closer to their first playoff berth in three years, the Panthers (11-3) improved to 8-0 at home and prevented the Broncos (8-6) from clinching the AFC West.

Taking advantage of a thin Denver secondary missing Champ Bailey (groin) and Marlon McCree (ankle), Smith caught nine passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. Williams added a 56-yard touchdown run and the Panthers' defense shut down Jay Cutler and the league's second-rated offense.

Jonathan Stewart added another touchdown and got most of the carries in the second half after the team said Williams was shaken up.

While Williams and Stewart (140 combined yards) weren't as impressive as six days earlier when they rushed for 301 yards and four touchdowns, it was enough to avoid any letdown a week before the Panthers visit the New York Giants with perhaps the No. 1 seed in the NFC on the line.

Cutler threw for only 172 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but was fortunate the Panthers dropped several potential picks. Brandon Marshall had only five catches for 58 yards, and the running game, decimated by injuries, couldn't pick up the slack.

Tatum Bell, who was selling cell phones last month, starting at tailback and had 43 yards on seven carries. P.J. Pope rushed for 51 yards and caught his first career touchdown on Denver's first possession, but the Broncos didn't reach the end zone again on a day that began so promising for the Broncos.

Denver went through pregame warmups perhaps thinking it would clinch the AFC West midway through the first quarter, when Kansas City finished off a win over San Diego in an early game.

Instead, the Chiefs blew a 21-3 third-quarter lead. The Chargers got the winning TD as Cutler was shredding Carolina's secondary on the opening drive that ended with his 7-yard pass Pope.

Smith caught three passes for 66 yards on Carolina's first possession, ending with a 15-yard catch-and-run TD off a big block from fellow receiver Muhsin Muhammad.

The Panthers took their first lead on Stewart's 2-yard run midway through the second quarter -- with Smith's 38-yard grab the key play of the drive -- then got a gift to take a 20-10 halftime lead.

Instead of running out the clock on second-and-10 from its own 18 in the closing seconds, Denver called a timeout. The Broncos fumbled on the next play, Carolina's Tyler Brayton recovered, and John Kasay kicked a 44-yard field goal as time expired.

Williams' cutback 56-yard run on the first drive of the second half put it away for Carolina, which won its third straight as their founder looked on.

Richardson had been hospitalized for about a week and had not attended the past three games.

But the 72-year-old Richardson -- the first ex-NFL player to own a team since George Halas -- sat in his first-row seat in his open-air end zone box covered with a white and blue Panthers blanket.

A large cheer erupted when Richardson was shown on the stadium video boards early in the fourth quarter, just before Kasay kicked his third field goal for the final margin.

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