Carolina’s defense, even without Josh Norman, is going to be good this year. Carolina’s offense, especially with the return of Kelvin Benjamin, is going to be good, too.

But after back-to-back losses to the Broncos – first in Super Bowl 50 this past February and again in Denver on Thursday night – the Panthers, it’s safe to say, have some concerns.

“I think they can be really good, but I have some concerns about Carolina’s mental toughness,” former All-Pro linebacker and current 9News NFL analyst Chad Brown said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “The Broncos certainly proved to be mentally tough last year, particularly in close games, and they proved it again tonight on opening night. Carolina, while 15-1 last year, would typically allow teams to get back in the game and then Cam Newton would pull off a heroic win in the close games that they had.”

That didn’t happen Thursday. The Panthers squandered a 17-7 halftime lead and lost, 24-21, as Graham Gano’s potential 50-yard game-winning field goal sailed wide left.

Carolina has now lost back-to-back games after winning 17 of its previous 18.

“Tonight I saw a team that didn’t play mentally tough football on either side of the ball and got a little frustrated, got a little chippy, got a little focused away from what they were trying to execute (before) the whistle and got too focused on talking after the whistle,” Brown said. “So I need to see a more disciplined, consistent approach to consider them one of the top teams in the NFL. Talent-wise, sure, will they probably rank high in the stats? Sure. But as far as winning close ball games, I need to see more mental toughness from them.”

Brown also weighed in on the ongoing social protests that Colin Kaepernick began last month. Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall kneeled during the national anthem Thursday night.

“My first reaction is it is clearly their right to do that, and for people to threaten violence against players, it is their right to protest,” Brown said. “That’s a first-amendment right. Whether you agree or disagree with the overall point or the message, that is their right. As far as Brandon Marshall tonight, that was his right to do that. He talked about it postgame in some interviews, and he really didn’t seem to have all his thoughts together. I thought he would have been better served to maybe have a press conference tomorrow where the focus tonight could have been on the team win, what a great win by the Broncos and then talk about what he wanted to talk about tomorrow and really have a chance to kind of lay it all out in much more of a message fashion, as opposed to kind of answering questions haphazardly in the locker room.”


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