CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers both made a concerted effort during the offseason to upgrade the quarterback position.

But with the NFL season entering the stretch run, neither team has much to show for it.

Russell Wilson has struggled to mesh with the Broncos (3-7) entering Sunday’s game at Carolina after being acquired in an offseason trade with the Seattle Seahawks. Likewise, 2018 No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield has been a flop with the Panthers (3-8) since coming over from the Cleveland Browns, prompting interim head coach Steve Wilks to bench him this week for Sam Darnold.

“It’s a crazy business,” Darnold said of getting his first start of the season after being sidelined for most of the year with a high ankle sprain. “But we’re focused on the task at hand right now.”

Mayfield was 1-5 as the team’s starter and Wilks is not only looking for a spark on offense, but also another chance to evaluate Darnold before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next spring. Darnold was 4-7 as Carolina’s starting QB last year.

“The skill set is there,” Wilks said of Darnold. “I wanted to give him that opportunity to see what he could go out and do.”

The Broncos will be keeping Wilson, for sure.

Denver is last in the league in scoring and tied with Las Vegas for last place in the AFC West after losing six games by six points or less, including a 22-16 overtime defeat to the Raiders last week.

Wilson said the Broncos still have a “relentless buy in” from players and he remains optimistic the team can turn things around this season.

“The part that we keep hanging our hat on is that we have been in every single one of these games and we feel like we should have won every single one of them,” Wilson said. “As disappointing as that is, we are where we are. We have to respond and get better.”


The Broncos have a new running back rotation with the release of Melvin Gordon after his fifth fumble of the season last week contributed to a loss to the Raiders.

Latavius Murray, plucked from the Saints’ practice squad last month, leads the new backfield that includes fellow veterans Marlon Mack and Devine Ozigbo.

Although Gordon wasn’t popular with the fan base after fumbling 12 times in 2 1/2 seasons in Denver, his waiver Monday impacted the locker room.

“Yeah, everybody was sad,” wide receiver Courtland Sutton said.

Murray ran for 49 yards on 17 carries last week against Las Vegas and has scored a rushing touchdown in three of the last four games.


North Carolina native Kendall Hinton is excelling in a bigger role with the Broncos and on Sunday the third-year wide receiver gets to play in his home state.

“A lot of people haven’t been able to see me play,” said the Wake Forest graduate, “so it’ll be exciting to do what I love in front of the people I love.”

The Demon Deacons played at the Panthers stadium in 2017, but Hinton was hurt and didn’t play.

“This will be the first time I step on the (Panthers’) field,” said Hinton, who was back on the Broncos’ practice squad in 2020 when the Broncos visited Charlotte two weeks after he was Denver’s emergency quarterback in his NFL debut.


The Panthers averaged 146.2 yards per game on the ground in their previous four games under Wilks before the Ravens slammed the door on D’Onta Foreman and company this past week, limiting Carolina to 36 yards on 17 carries.

But don’t expect the Panthers to go away from the run anytime soon, especially with Darnold just getting his feet wet.

“We have to be better at the run game and I kind of put that on me,” Foreman said. “I feel like when we run the ball well, we are able to stay on the field. When we don’t run the ball well, we get off the field earlier than we want to.”


Wilks challenged his “star players” to step up and make plays and help change the culture of losing.

“One of the messages that I talked about this morning in the team meeting (is) our star players got to play like stars,” Wilks said. “They need to step up. So across the board, on both sides of the ball, they need to play. And if you’re a first or second-round draft pick, you’re that for a reason. If we brought you in as a free agent, you’re a star player. Go play.”

A loss Sunday would clinch a fifth straight losing season for Carolina.


Denver has scored just 34 points in the third quarter, by far the lowest in the league. No other team has scored fewer than 57.

“Our third quarters are a big part of why we are where we are,” Wilson said. “It has slowed us down tremendously and that is something I am really focused on.”

DENVER (3-7) at CAROLINA (3-8)

Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, FOX


AGAINST THE SPREAD: Denver 3-7, Carolina 5-6.

SERIES RECORD: Broncos lead 6-1.

LAST MEETING: Broncos beat Panthers 32-27 on Dec. 13, 2020, at Denver.

LAST WEEK: Broncos lost to Raiders 22-16 in OT; Panthers lost to Ravens 13-3.





TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Broncos even; Panthers minus-5.

BRONCOS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Latavius Murray. With Chase Edmunds out with an ankle sprain and Melvin Gordon having been waived because of fumbling issues, the Broncos are expected to lean heavily on Murray in the ground game. He had 17 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown on Sunday against the Raiders along with four receptions for 23 yards. Murray has scored three TDs on the ground in the past four games. Marlon Mack could see an increased role as Denver’s No. 2 back. Gordon had a key fumble last Sunday in a loss to the Raiders. He had 12 fumbles in two seasons with Denver, nine of which were recovered by opponents.

PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: DE Brian Burns. Burns continues to be a dominant edge rusher for the Panthers with eight sacks, 50 tackles and 14 QB hits. Burns’ numbers may not be among the league’s leaders, but he takes up plenty of double teams and demands plenty of attention from opposing coordinators. The Panthers were offered two first-round draft picks for Burns before the trade deadline, but turned it down.

KEY MATCHUP: Broncos P Corliss Waitman vs. Panthers P Johnny Hekker. The Broncos and Panthers rank 31st and 32nd in the league respectively in third down conversions, so it has been a busy season for Waitman and Hekker. Waitman is first in the NFL in punts (58) while Hekker (56) is third. So this could very well be a game where field position plays a big role in what could be a low-scoring game. The Broncos are 32nd in the league in points scored, while the Panthers are 25th.

KEY INJURIES: Denver hopes to get WRs Jerry Jeudy (ankle) and WR KJ Hamler (hamstring) and TE Andrew Beck (hamstring) back this week. Broncos DL Jonathan Harris will not play after suffering a knee injury against the Raiders, so look for rookies Matt Henningsen and Eyioma Uwazurike to see more action. The Panthers could be without LB Cory Littleton (ankle).

SERIES NOTES: The Broncos defeated the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, 2016. Denver has dominated the series, winning the past four matchups. Carolina’s only win against Denver came in 2008.

STATS AND STUFF: The Broncos have lost six of their past seven games after starting the season 2-1. … Denver is 1-4 on the road. … RB Latavius Murray had a season-high 72 scrimmage yards and a TD rushing last week. … WR Courtland Sutton had five catches for a team-high 80 yards in Week 11. He is going for his third game in a row with at least five catches and 65 yards receiving. … LB Josey Jewell had 11 tackles, a sack and a pass defensed last week vs. the Raiders. … LB Alex Singleton had at least seven tackles in five of the past six games. … DE Dre’Mont Jones has three sacks and five tackles for a loss in his past four games. … QB Sam Darnold makes his first start this season for the Panthers. He was 4-7 as a starter last year with 13 interceptions and nine touchdown passes. … QB Baker Mayfield will be the Panthers backup QB. … Panthers RB D’Onta Foreman struggled last week against a tough Ravens defense, but has been solid overall since replacing Christian McCaffrey in the backfield. Foreman has three games with at least 118 yards rushing in the past five outings. … All three Carolina wins this season have come at home. … If the Panthers fail to win on Sunday it will mark their fifth straight losing season. … Panthers WR D.J. Moore had just three catches for 24 yards against the Ravens and was one of the players interim coach Steve Wilks said needs to step up and make plays. … LS JJ Jansen will tie the team’s record of games played on Sunday (221) currently held by K John Kasay. Jansen is in his 14th season with the Panthers.

FANTASY TIP: QB Russell Wilson has been a disappointment in fantasy football, but this might be a decent week to start him based off history. He has completed 73.7% of his passes for 625 yards passing with four TDs and no INTs in his past two starts vs. Carolina. Wilson has 19 TDs (17 pass, 2 rush) vs. 0 INTs with 128.8 rating in his past six starts vs. the NFC South.