Tempers flare on the sidelines in the Broncos’ latest loss to Russell Wilson

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (AP) — Sam Darnold threw a touchdown and recovered a fumble for another touchdown in his first game since Jan. 9, helping the Carolina Panthers beat Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos 23-10 to keep their modest playoff hopes alive. Alive heading into a bye week.

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Carolina (4-8) is last in the NFC South for woe but only 1 1/2 behind a leading Tampa Bay team.

Darnold completed 11 of 19 passes for 164 yards without a turnover in his first game since losing the starting job to Baker Mayfield in training camp and then suffered a sprained ankle in the preseason. He’s the third quarterback to start this season for the Panthers, joining Mayfield and PJ Walker.

The defense limited Carolina Wilson to 19 of 35 passes for 142 yards and sacked him three times, leading the Broncos (3-8) to their seventh loss in eight games. Pro Bowl defensive end Brian Burns had two sacks of Wilson, including a forced fumble, and caught a pass at the line of scrimmage to end another drive.

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Denver came in with the worst offense in the league and didn’t find the end zone until a 1-yard touchdown pass by Wilson with 3:24 remaining in the game, a performance sure to turn up the heat even more when trapped first. Coach of the Year Nathaniel Hackett.

Denver’s frustration was evident in the fourth quarter when Wilson and defensive lineman Mike Purcell exchanged words on the sidelines.

“Mike and I are on the same page,” Wilson said. “He came out after they kicked a field goal and he was (upset). He said, ‘We have to go.’ So he and I are on the same page. There is no animosity at all. We have to win and have some grit and some mentality to us and win some football games.”

The Panthers took a 10-3 lead when Darnold drove the Panthers to the Broncos’ doorstep and scored an extraordinary touchdown midway through the third quarter.

After faking a 2-out handoff, Darnold made a move toward the end zone and was stripped of the ball. But the QB caught the ball on alert and then rolled into the end zone untouched for a 17-3 lead.

“This is someone who is attuned to the situation and understands the rules of the game,” said Wilkes. “He was quick to get the ball and then he realized no one had touched him.”

The Panthers put the game away early in the fourth quarter when Darnold Moore hit a stride on a 52-yard bomb along the right sideline, setting up a 26-yard field goal by Eddie Pinheiro to make it a three-possession game.

“We felt like we could really run with these guys,” Wilkes said. “As good as they are secondary, sometimes they sit and sit on things. So that was nice to see.”

Hackett’s job

Hackett was asked about his job security but mostly avoided the question.

“We all have high expectations. We want to win every football game. We all have to improve in all areas. And that starts with me,” he said.

Third quarter issues

The Broncos entered the game having scored a league-low 34 points in the third quarter and not scored on Sunday. Hackett said the team scripted its plays in the third quarter in hopes of addressing the problem.

“It didn’t work out very well,” Hackett said. “We have to find better ones.”

Third sole

The Broncos and Panthers came out as the two best teams in the league in converting a third down and nothing changed there. Carolina was 2 of 12 in third and Denver was 4 of 14.

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