The Detroit Lions went into Saturday’s game feeling strong about the way they play. If they can finish each of their last three games with a win, they will almost certainly make the playoffs — a dream scenario given their 1-6 start.
But from the start of their game against the Carolina Panthers, they were in control physically. Carolina dominated the line of scrimmage, as fullbacks D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard were each rushing 100 yards by half. The Lions’ offense could not keep up with Jared Goff’s early and costly change-up and a still-struggling running game.
The Panthers were leading 24-7 at halftime and the Lions couldn’t even make the bottom line look any better in a second half in which both teams seemed to be trailing.
A loss does not put the Lions out of playoff contention, but their path will be much more difficult. And if they play that way again, they’ll have absolutely no chance of finishing among the top seven NFC teams. Let’s hope this is a wake-up call for the Lions and not a final crushing blow to their season.
Here’s how Saturday’s game unfolded.
The Lions won the coin-op and punted, giving the Panthers the ball first. Carolina got off to a promising start with a 30-yard Chupa Hubbard run around left end. He followed it up with a 35-yard run on the next play, and the Panthers were already in the red zone. A few plays later, quarterback Sam Darnold ran the option, put it on Raheem Blackshear, and the Panthers scored after just five rushing plays. 7-0 Panthers.
The ensuing game went out of bounds, giving the Lions good starting position at their own 40-yard line. After two incomplete passes, Jared Goff went deep to DJ Chark, who caught a contested catch for a big 39-yard gain.
From there, the Lions took third down again with a 13-yard gain to Amon-Ra St. Louis. Brown who put the lions first and the goal. The Lions quickly grabbed an access card to Shane Zylstra. 7-7 tie.
The Panthers’ rushing game continued to pick up against the Lions’ defense. D’Onta Foreman exploded for 21 yards on the first rush of the next drive. A false start and a tackle for loss by Alim McNeil forced the Panthers into third and sixth at center linebacker, but Ian Thomas dropped a potential first down (who would have been called due to a penalty). Carolina chased down to the Detroit 9-yard line.
Detroit drove out of its own end zone with a second pass to rookie James Mitchell that went 22 yards. Goff then completed a pass to his third tight end with Brock Wright bringing Detroit to midfield with an 11-yard gain. St. Brown held a hard catch for another 19 yards all the way to the Panthers’ 34-yard line.
This catch prompted Amon-Ra St. Brown to over 1,000 yards, becoming the youngest Lions player ever to do so.
The Lions got into another tough situation: 4th-and-1 from the Panthers’ 22-yard line, and Detroit picked it up with Jamaal Williams running forward two yards and into the red zone. The Lions were leading as the first quarter came to a close.
Calif Raymond put the Lions into an easy goal-goal situation with a great finish around play, but it was all for nothing. Goff fumbled the next snap and Panthers fullback Yetur Gross Matos recovered it at his own 9-yard line.
The Lions defense continued to struggle. A play pass to Tommy Tremble was immediately caught 18 yards from Carolina. Furman then broke up a few tackles for another explosive run, this time for 38 yards. They pushed down inside the 5-yard line with an option run from Darnold. He did it again two plays later on a 3-yard touchdown run and 14-7 Panthers Lead.
Detroit quickly went three-and-out, as Goff’s successive touchdown passes were hit at the goal line.
A punt-mounted penalty put the Panthers back inside their own 10-yard line, but that didn’t matter much. Darnold Terrace hit Marshall Jr. for a 36-yard kick with Jerry Jacobs in tight coverage to move toward midfield. Furman followed it up with a 21-yard run and just as the Panthers were in scoring position again. A fourth offside and an inch on the drive kept the drive alive. A few plays later, Foreman punched it in at a 4-yard touchdown run. 21-7 Panthers.
Detroit had two minutes to narrow it down to a one-point game. Instead, they went three again, giving the Panthers 59 seconds to add to their lead. Another explosive play on the ground – a 33-yard gain from Hubbard – quickly got Carolina to midfield. A penalty on each team kept the Panthers out of the end zone, but they came close enough to block a field goal and go into halftime. 24-7 Panthers Lead.
The Lions offense could not start the second half, as Goff was sacked on third down by Brian Burns for his third straight home run at Detroit.
He drove the Panthers down midfield, and found themselves in the third and thirteenth positions. The Lions sent pressure that didn’t get there and Darnold found D.J. Moore for a 47-yard bomb.
It went right back to Moore for a 5-yard bubble screen for another touchdown. 31-7 Panthers
After the team traded punts, the Lions closed the gap late in the third quarter. A 56-yard bomb on Detroit’s Kalif Raymond got a close run, and Goff Zylstra found it again for a 7-yard pass on the fourth touchdown. Detroit elected to go for two, but fell short. 31-13 Panthers.
The fourth quarter
An Isiah Baggs personal foul penalty helped the Panthers move into goal range, and Carolina saved three more points with just over 13 minutes left in the game. 34-13 Panthers.
Detroit had a chance to cut the score to two, but they failed to convert into fourth-and-fifth-place Panthers territory, and it was a blinds spot after that.
Zylstra would add a touchdown in trash time with four minutes left, third of the day. 34-20 Panthers.
But a botched onside kick would put the final nail in the coffin, and the teams would trade field goals for the final score 37-23 Panthers.
The loss drops the Lions to 7-8 on the season, halting playoff talk. The postseason is not out of reach for the Lions, but there is no more margin for error.
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