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Eight offseason narratives exposed in thrilling opener

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An offseason of hot air was blown away by 60 minutes of sensational NFL football on Thursday night. Denver's 21-20 victory over the Panthers was an excellent omen for the season ahead and a reminder that summer narratives often look silly when the real games start.

Let's examine eight bits of conventional wisdom that were exposed in this game:

The Broncos are in deep trouble at quarterback: Trevor Siemian wasn't the reason Denver won on Thursday night. But he wouldn't have been the reason they lost either if Panthers kicker Graham Gano came through with a field goal in the closing seconds. This formula sounds familiar.

The Broncos' system can thrive despite the quarterback being a supporting player. One bad decision aside, Siemian made more positive plays than the Broncos got out of their starting quarterbacks for most games last season. The final numbers (18 of 28 for 178 yards, one touchdown and two picks) aren't indicative of Siemian's heady play. He used his athleticism to extend drives, showed a fast release and was victimized by bad luck on a tipped interception. He has a live arm and put passes into tight windows, although he's hesitant to take shots down the field. Rookie running Devontae Booker also ruined a scoring chance with a fumble. Siemian was handed a 10-point deficit at halftime against a very good defense, and the Broncos came back to win. What more would you want out of a second-year player taken in the seventh round last year? He looked like he belonged.

Perhaps just as important, Siemian received a lot of support from his teammates. Which brings up another one of those narratives ...

Losing Peyton Manning could hurt the Broncos' run game: Manning received a lot of credit for getting the Broncos into the right looks and helping the running game last year. C.J. Anderson didn't seem to miss him on Thursday night, and Manning helped point out the reason why during his brief appearance in the NBC broadcast booth.

NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth and Manning noted that last year's hybrid offensive system that shared DNA from "Manning's offense" and Gary Kubiak's traditional zone-based approach was mostly gone. This is Kubiak's offense now and the Broncos were very effective blowing the Panthers off the ball on the ground, rushing for 148 yards and two scores on 29 carries. C.J. Anderson made his new "No. 1 running back" contract look like a bargain with 149 explosive yards from scrimmage. The offensive line looked better suited to run like crazy with left tackle Russell Okung and right tackle Donald Stephenson.

Von Miller's offseason and DeMarcus Ware's injuries would catch up with Denver: Miller had a relatively quiet game until a huge sack late in the fourth quarter, although that was in large part due to Carolina's effective coaching adjustments. (Newton shortened his drops from center.) Ware had two QB hits, 1.5 sacks and a tackle for loss despite missing most of the offseason with a back injury. Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett also made plays for the deepest outside rushing crew in football.

The Broncos' luck would run out: Denver's string of insane finishes last season was remarkable. Whenever they needed a play or a call or a bit of luck, the Broncos got it. The logical expectation was that we'd see some regression to the mean this season. That might happen eventually, but it doesn't get much more fortunate than a missed kick to the end the game, not to mention some key missed calls throughout the game. Speaking of which ...

"You aren't allowed to hit quarterbacks" anymore: Newton is the reigning MVP and he couldn't catch a break when taking hits to the helmet throughout this painful loss. He was clearly hit four times and only once was a penalty called. We expect the Broncos' defenders to get fined for some of the hits that weren't called, including two plays when defenders Darian Stewart and Brandon Marshall "launched" at Newton.

"Treat him like a quarterback," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen told NFL Network's Omar Ruiz after the game. "I know he's the biggest guy on the field, but he's still a QB."

The NFL might also answer question on whether the concussion protocol was followed during the final drive of the game when Newton was hit in the helmet.

Newton is a natural candidate for regression: I'm guilty of wondering aloud about Newton's ability to maintain his insane MVP level from a year ago. There's a reason why back-to-back MVP seasons have rarely happened. Despite Newton's 5.9 yards-per-attempt average Thursday night, he was as electric as ever. Newton played a near-flawless first half, leading the Panthers up and down the field to 17 points in four drives. His accuracy was pinpoint and his 54 yards rushing were a key part of the offense. The Broncos slowed Newton down in the second half, but he had them in position to win the game. Despite the loss, Newton has to be happy about having his No. 1 receiver back. ...

Kelvin Benjamin will be on a snap count in Week 1: In fairness, Panthers coach Ron Rivera started this narrative by suggesting Benjamin would only get around 35 snaps in the opener as he improves his conditioning. Benjamin wound up with 54 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, more than any receiver on the team. Benjamin finished with six catches and 91 yards on 12 targets, his size often overwhelming quality cornerbacks like Chris Harris and Bradley Roby.

The Panthers will start two rookie cornerbacks: How many words were spilled on this topic? It didn't happen in the opener as rookie James Bradberry was effectively paired with veterans Bene' Benwikere and Robert McClain. Bradberry's fellow rookie Daryl Worley was deemed not ready.

This game will be a hard one for the rest of the season to live up to. It's rare that a Super Bowl rematch in the regular season outshines the original.

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