DENVER -- With the game hanging in the balance, Graham Gano had every confidence his field-goal try in the final seconds would sail through the uprights.
Reality let him down.
The Carolina kicker's 50-yard effort went wide left, and the Denver Broncos hung on to beat the Panthers 21-20 Thursday night.
The NFL's kickoff game was a rematch of the Super Bowl in which Denver's defense carried the Broncos past Carolina 24-10. The Panthers were on the brink of a different outcome Thursday.
"I was going to drill it, no doubt in my mind," Gano said of his mindset ahead of the final kick. He converted two earlier attempts and did not appear fazed when Denver coach Gary Kubiak called a timeout an instant before he lined up the ill-fated attempt.
"I just missed it," Gano added. "The timeout didn't affect me. It never does. But this happens. It's not going to define my season. Got a lot of games left."
Gano said he appreciated that many of his teammates came up to him after the game, telling him they believed in him and retained confidence in him.
"I wish I could have it back, but the reality is you can't," Gano said. "I've got to move on and make my next kick."
His quarterback, Cam Newton, said he believed Gano would do just that.
"We've got full faith in him being put in that situation again, he would have the good side of it," Newton said. "It was just one of those type of games."
--Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall thought long and hard before deciding to take a knee during the playing pregame of the national anthem, and he said he plans to do it again.
And his action goes beyond showing solidarity with his former college teammate at Nevada, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has sought to call attention to racial inequities in the United States by kneeling during the playing of the anthem before games.
"The message is that I'm against social injustice," Marshall said. "I'm not against the military, the police or America at all. I'm against social injustice, and I feel like this was the right thing to do. This was the right platform. This is our only platform to really be heard. At times, people want us to just shut up and entertain them, shut up and play football. But we have voices as well."
Marshall said he did not speak with Kaepernick before deciding to join his movement, but he does expect to talk to him in the near future.
"Colin is my fraternity brother, my ex-teammate, and I believe in what he's trying to do," Marshall said. "I believe in his actions, so I definitely want to stand by him."
Denver coach Gary Kubiak did not take sides on his player's action.
"I'll just say this: Brandon is a great kid," Kubiak said. "He is a leader of this team. I believe in our players. I believe in our guys, and I believe in them wholeheartedly. We move forward. I'm proud of them all."
--Newton described the game as extremely physical on both sides, and he conceded afterward that he felt pretty bad, both from the loss and from the physical toll on his body.
Newton was sacked three times, hit numerous other times and took several shots to the head, including a helmet-to-helmet shot by safety Darian Stewart late in the game that left him dazed. Because of a Panthers penalty on the same play, the penalties offset.
Newton, whose 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was the 44th rushing touchdown of his career, an NFL record for quarterbacks, was asked after the game if he felt defenders were targeting him in the head and if officials were doing enough to protect him.
"It's not my job to question the officials," Newton said. "I really liked this officiating crew, so I know it wasn't something they did intentionally. But we didn't lose the game off of that. We just have to find ways to put more drives together."
--Running back C.J. Anderson said Denver's experience against Carolina played a role in the screen pass that he turned into a touchdown, helping to launch the Broncos' comeback.
"It's a (defensive) look we saw last year during film of the Super Bowl," Anderson said. "We knew when we got down in the red-zone area that we thought it would be a good play. We just had a feeling when we got that look."
Anderson went 25 yards for the touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"I did enough to make it look like I was really blocking (Panthers linebacker) Thomas Davis and just slipped out," he said. "The rest was in the end zone. It was a great block by our O-linemen, but it was a really great block by D.T. (Demaryius Thomas) down by the goal line to get me in."
--Before the game began, the trappings of the defending Super Bowl champion were on display as well as the Broncos' history.
Former running back Terrell Davis and current general manager John Elway, who were the MVPs of the Broncos' successive wins in Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII, each brought those Lombardi Trophies onto the field to the roar of the crowd. Then, Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller, who was in the locker room, handed the Lombardi Trophy to Peyton Manning, who paraded the trophy before fans. Manning retired a month after helping the Broncos beat the Panthers for the title.