CHARLOTTE, N.C. - (AP) The Carolina Panthers (11-3) beat the Denver Broncos 30-10 and clinched at least a tie for the NFC South title, improved to 8-0 at home and prevented the Broncos (8-6) from clinching the AFC West.
DeAngelo Williams had a 56-yard touchdown run on Carolina's first possession of the second half to put it away. Steve Smith torched Broncos rookie cornerback Josh Barrett, catching nine passes for 165 yards and a touchdown, and the Panthers' defense shut down Jay Cutler and the league's second-ranked offense.
"They pressured us a little bit," said Cutler, who threw for 172 yards and one touchdown and was fortunate to have only one interception. "We weren't able to run the ball as well as we wanted to."
Tatum Bell, who was selling cell phones last month, started at tailback for the banged-up Broncos and had 43 yards on seven carries. P.J. Pope rushed for 51 yards and caught his first career touchdown on Denver's first possession, but a once promising day turned sour.
Denver went through pregame warmups perhaps thinking it would clinch the AFC West midway through the first quarter, when Kansas City finished off a win over San Diego in an early game.
Instead, the Chiefs blew a 21-3 third-quarter lead. The Chargers got the winning TD as Cutler was shredding Carolina's secondary on the opening drive that ended with his 7-yard pass Pope.
"I was aware of what happened," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "Our team wasn't."
The Broncos will get another chance to clinch the division next week at home against Buffalo.
"We need to win and take care of business as fast as possible," said cornerback Dre' Bly. "Time is running out. We don't want to go into the last game with the Chargers."
With Champ Bailey (groin) and Marlon McCree (ankle) out, Denver's thin secondary couldn't keep up with Smith.
He caught three passes for 66 yards on Carolina's first possession, ending with a 15-yard catch-and-run TD off a big block from fellow receiver Muhsin Muhammad.