Five reasons the Detroit Lions beat Carolina Panthers, 20-19

Offense, defense and special teams came up big

DETROIT — Perhaps the Lions’ game ball should have gone to Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera. He made the decision to go for a 2-point conversion after a touchdown catch by D.J. Moore that pulled Carolina within one point with 1:07 left.

The conversion failed when quarterback Cam Newton couldn’t find an open receiver and sailed one high into the end zone. Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano had missed a field goal and extra-point earlier and Newton had momentum, it just didn’t work out.

That decision allowed the Lions (4-6) to snap a three-game losing streak with a 20-19 win over the Panthers who fall to 6-4.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn’t thinking about Rivera’s 2-point decision at the time.

“I’m kind of just locked in on what my two-minute calls are going to be, what I’m going to have to do to go down and score and get a field goal to win the game. I trust our defense a ton to make a play but as a player you have to be ready for what’s ahead,’’ Stafford said. “It’s either going to be two-minute or take a knee. … Obviously we didn’t need (the two-minute) which was awesome.’’

He wasn’t surprised they went for 2 points since they’re so aggressive and it gave them a chance to steal one on the road.

“Obviously our defense made a great play there at the end. They were rolling a little bit there in the second half on a couple drives. I bet they felt confident, but I was confident in our guys and I’m glad we made the play,’’ Stafford said.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. Two huge defensive plays on a Panthers’ drive early in the fourth quarter were key. Cornerback Darius Slay turned on the jets and somehow caught D.J. Moore at Detroit’s 12-yard line after an 82-yard gain that looked sure to be a touchdown. Then three plays later on third-and-2, at Detroit’s 4, linebacker Jarrad Davis sacked Cam Newton for a 12-yard loss and forced the Panthers to attempt a field goal which kicker Graham Gano clunked off the post. Big Play Slay certainly lived up to his nickname on that one play. He limped off the field but was able to finish the game.  “We knew that’s what we had to do. If we stop (Newton) ‚ he’s the show — if we stop the show, we can win,’’ Slay said. “And he’s the show and we stopped him and did our best we could against him and handled that.”

2. Kenny Golladay had a big day (eight catches for 113 yards). With Marvin Jones Jr., out, Golladay was the top wide receiver on the field. No catch was bigger than his 19-yard touchdown with just five minutes left in the game. Golladay was covered by James Bradberry, but he leapt up and dove backward into the end zone, keeping control of the ball on his way down. That score gave the Lions a 20-13 lead. “(Stafford) just gave me a nice, pretty, high ball. I like balls like that for me to just use my size, hands, athletic ability to go up there and make the catch and that’s what I did,’’ Golladay said.

3. The offensive line came up big protecting Matthew Stafford. He was sacked just once (by his old nemesis Julius Peppers) and hit just once. He had been sacked 16 times in the past two games. “I was just trying to do a good job of keeping us ahead of the sticks. If I had to take 3 or 4 (yards) on first down and not wait on something that was 10 or 15, I was going to do it,’’ Stafford said. “Credit to our guys getting open and making the catches when we were able to do that. Obviously running the ball helps … I was proud of our guys up front, they pushed them around in the run game and kept me clean for most of the day which was awesome.’’

4. Running back Kerryon Johnson ran in from 8 yards out for a touchdown on the Lions’ first possession. Johnson had a great day with 15 carries for 87 yards, along with two catches for 10 yards, until he injured his knee late in the third quarter and was unable to return. In his post-game press conference, Patricia said he had no update on Johnson. FOX reported that Johnson was crying once he got in the tunnel on the way to the locker room. “He’s got some big-play ability, you see it. Some 20-plus runs, I’ve got the best view in the house right behind him,’’ Stafford said. “Sometimes splits a seam and he’s out. He’s done a nice job for us and it was more of the same today.”

5. Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter fashioned together an offense without Marvin Jones Jr., and it worked. “We knew it was going to be a collective effort. It was going to take everybody doing a little bit here and there to make that thing go for us,’’ Stafford said. “We didn’t light up the scoreboard by any means but we got enough points to win the game which was nice.’’ Along with Golladay’s eight catches, Bruce Ellington had six for 52 yards and Theo Riddick finished with five receptions for 30 yards. Stafford was 23 of 37 for 220 yards and one touchdown. The quarterback has been criticized early and often for the last three losses, he deserves credit here too.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

UP NEXT: Lions host the Chicago Bears at 12:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. It’s a short-turnaround for Detroit or as Stafford said, “We’ve got to flip it quick.” The Lions lost to the Bears, 34-22, two weeks ago.

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Lions without Marvin Jones, A’Shawn Robinson, Michael Roberts

Ziggy Ansah to play third straight game

DETROIT — The Lions’ wide receiving corps was one of the NFL’s best until two weeks ago when Golden Tate was traded. They will be without Marvin Jones Jr. (knee) today against the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field. That leaves Kenny Golladay and T.J. Jones to be Matthew Stafford’s main targets. Wide receiver Andy Jones has been called up from the practice squad.

Kerryon Johnson and Theo Riddick are the only running back duo to each have 30 more receptions, so Stafford could be looking to them also.

Detroit will also be without defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (ankle) and tight end Michael Roberts (shoulder). Both were listed as out on Friday’s injury report.

DE Ezekiel Ansah and DT Damon Harrison Sr., who both have shoulder injuries, are active after being limited in practice all week.

Right guard T. J. Lang (neck) was placed on injured reserve this week, ending his season. Kenny Wiggins will start in his place.

Darius Slay (knee), Eli Harold (shoulder), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (neck) and tight end Luke Willson (shoulder) who were out a week ago, are all active.

Other Lions’ inactives (all healthy): Wide receiver Brandon Powell, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, defensive end Eric Lee and offensive lineman Andrew Donnal.

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. with game televised on FOX with Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber and Jen Hale.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Three key Lions sidelined with injuries

If the Lions’ hope to snap their three-game losing streak, they need to play practically perfect football against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Ford Field. It will be the first of three straight home games.

The Panthers (6-3) are coming off a Thursday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers so they’ve had extra time to prepare for the Lions who are 3-6.

The Lions (3-6) will be without three injured starters — wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and tight end Michael Roberts.

It’s been a rough start under first year coach Matt Patricia, after the Lions finished 9-7 last season.

Still quarterback Matthew Stafford said the team hasn’t quit.

“I think we have a bunch of professionals, a bunch of guys that want to win. Nobody wants to go out there and work their tail off and not win,’’ Stafford said. “So, everybody’s out there trying to figure out a way to be better. Any way we can do it, we’re going to try.”

Five things to watch against the Panthers:

1. Stafford has been sacked 16 times in the last two games. Somehow, some way, they have to find a way to protect him while allowing him to be effective. “I think everybody’s doing everything they can to try and get us going. I think it’s a total team effort, everybody’s trying to play better at all positions, at all spots,’’ Stafford said. “I think our coaches are putting a ton of work in trying to be as good as they can be. So, it’s a total team effort. Offense is no different, we’re out there trying to find ways to make sure we score points. That’s the name of the game at the end of the day. Obviously, limiting sacks and turnovers and all that kind of stuff is going to help us do that, so any way we can do that kind of stuff is going to be beneficial for us.” The offensive line will be without right guard T.J. Lang for the rest of the season.

2. Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter are on the same wavelength when it comes to the offense, but they’ve got to translate it from practice to Sundays. They work closely together. “He and I shoot texts throughout the week while I’m at my place and he’s here working. I know he’s up all hours of the night trying to figure out what’s going to be the best way for us to go out there and score a bunch of points, and I’m thinking about it constantly, too,’’ Stafford said. “So, we’re bouncing ideas off of each other all day at practice, trying to find ways to make ourselves score some more points. That’s the name of the game, which has been good.”

3. Detroit’s defense will have its hands full with quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey, the one-two offensive punch. Each has four rushing touchdowns while Newton has thrown 17 touchdown passes (against just five interceptions) and McCaffrey has caught four of those TDs. Also wide receiver Devin Funchess averages 12.2 yards per catch with 477 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions defense has particularly struggled in the run game giving up 176 rushing yards in the loss to Seattle and 128 to the Vikings. They found better success against the Bears last week holding them to 54 rushing yards, although Mitchell Trubisky passed for 355 yards.

4. Cornerback Darius Slay, who was out last week with a knee injury, is expected to be back in action which will provide a needed boost to the secondary. “He’s a tough player. (He’s) a guy that really, through the course of the season, I’ve had the pleasure to kind of work with and be around and kind of use some of his different talents and attributes in different ways through the course of the game,’’ Patricia said. “I think he gives us some multiplicity in the backend, which is great.”

5. Coaching, as always, is key. While Cooter and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni make the calls on game days, Patricia is heavily involved. The coaching staff has got nine games of working together, but they’re facing a huge challenge with the talent on the Panthers roster. The Lions are 2-2 at Ford Field.

EXTRA: Stafford was asked what makes veteran Panthers’ defensive end Julius Peppers so good.  “Have you seen the guy before? He’s 6-6, 295 pounds, whatever he is. Extremely athletic, a very smart player. He’s seen a lot of football, he’s a smart rusher,’’ Stafford said. The two have a history going back to 2011 when Peppers (who played for the Bears) tackled Stafford, injuring his shoulder and knocking him out of action for six weeks.

PREDICTION: Panthers 35, Lions 14

Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia explains his outdoor snowy practice when next 4 games are indoors

Also makes snarky remark about media

ALLEN PARK — Lions coach Matt Patricia defended his decision to hold practice outdoors on Thursday despite the snow and cold and the fact that the Lions next four games are indoors.

At his Friday press conference, he started with a statement praising veterans before Sunday’s Salute to Service day.

Then the coach, who seemed agitated, read a prepared script on the outdoor practice seeking to get “closure to this continuing conversation as far as our training.”

Patricia doesn’t talk to the media on Thursdays so he didn’t address the uncommon notion of practicing outdoors in the snow when the four upcoming games are indoors.

He ended his Friday remarks with a snarky comment about the media.

“We’re going to be practicing inside today just so everybody’s clear, make sure everybody is good, with all the head coaches in the room on that. Everybody good there?’’ Patricia asked. “Again there’s some wind out there , some gusts, probably a good idea to practice inside. It’s all based on what’s best for the team at that moment.’’

The Lions are 3-6 and preparing to play the Carolina Panthers (6-3) on Sunday at Ford Field.

In Patricia’s remarks he started off by saying: “First, we’ll always practice and train in a manner that looks out for our players’ ability to prepare each week for our poopent while taking care of including all parameters to the overall health and safety of our team. Indoor walk-throughs which we had this week which we’ve also had in the past are always beneficial to our team, beneficial to our players, it’s a great teaching and learning environment. It’s an opportunity to pull off physically the demands of practice …’’

He went on, saying the downside of practicing on the indoor turf is the wearing effect it has on players’ bodies.

“Standing on turf or running on turf often time for extended periods of time affects joints, affects swelling and causes the bodies on different members of our team to have pain or joint swelling that will cause them further delay,’’ Patricia said.

He said he wanted to work in pads on fundamentals so Thursday’s practice was outdoors.

“Practicing in pads on turf is a little bit of an extra risk in my mind in some of those situations where feet or footwork might be stuck in the turf in different situations where as the grass or natural ground has a little more give. In those situations it’s safer for us to go outside in practice in pads …’’ said Patricia whose Lions are 3-6.

“Going outside yesterday allowed us the opportunity to focus on our fundamentals which we needed to do and take care and make sure we’re technically sound in some of our footwork. … The focus is most of the skilled players have to keep their feet underneath them be able to break with low center of gravity and play technically sound which is always good from a fundamental standpoint it was  a good opportunity to get that done. The temperature outside was not a factor it was not cold, there was not a heavy wind. It was an easy day for us to go outside and get some good work done.’’

It was in the low 30s and snowing on Thursday when Patricia wore shorts at practice.

“Working through conditions that are not ideal as a football team is also another benefit for us to take live learning environments and turn them into actual teaching moments outside. It also allows us to focus on details of technique and the awareness of our surroundings which we’ll have to play through at some point through the course of the year,’’ Patricia said.

The Lions play at Buffalo on Dec. 16.

Detroit Lions Matt Patricia, Jim Bob Cooter defend Matthew Stafford

Former backup Dan Orlovsky also chips in

ALLEN PARK — With a three-game losing streak, it’s not surprising that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has come under intense scrutiny.

It wasn’t just the three straight losses, it was the way the Lions lost. It seemed like they weren’t in the game from kickoff and it wasn’t close. They lost those three by a combined score of 86-45.

In those three games — the last two played without top wide receiver Golden Tate — Stafford threw four touchdowns and three interceptions while he was sacked a total of 19 times.

It’s not just Stafford who has been roasted, it’s the whole team.

Coach Matt Patricia, who usually stops short of praising or ripping individual players,  supported Stafford in his Wednesday press conference.

“Matt Stafford, we’re blessed to have him as our quarterback, we’re lucky to have him as our quarterback. This is a guy that’s extremely tough, he’s extremely competitive, a guy that works harder than anybody in the building every single day to get better,’’ Patricia said. “For him as a quarterback, for his due diligence, the work he does every single week, that’s not an easy position to play in the NFL. When you have the defenses that we’ve seen the last couple weeks coming at you from those different directions, playing in stadiums that are not easy to play in, under conditions that are not easy to play under, I would say it’s part of the game, his toughness that he portrays through all those situations, his ability to come back and go right back at it with that tenacious attitude and effort. I’ll take that every single day.

“He’s a great quarterback, he works extremely hard, he’s our leader on offense, we’re going to keep pushing and he’s going to keep leading which is great for us,’’ the coach added.

Of course Patricia would not explain exactly what has happened to the offense in the three losses.

“There’s definitely been some things that we’ve identified that are issues, it’s not really just one thing. It’s been a multitude of different things through the course of these past couple games that have been an issue. I’m going to be real honest I’m not going to give you specific details because there are other people that listen to this stuff,’’ Patricia said. “They’re watching the tape let them figure it out for themselves. But hopefully if there’s anything out there that they’re taking a look at we’ll get it corrected before we see it again which will happen.’’

No one on the Lions’ coaching staff doubts the toughness of Stafford who has started 121 consecutive games. That includes offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

“Stafford’s a really tough guy. Obviously offensively, I have to do a better job and we have to do a better job of protecting our quarterback through play-calling, scheme, execution, all those things,’’ Cooter said on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, we have to get that number down and do a better job with that. Stafford hangs in there, Stafford’s a tough guy. He’ll take a hit when needed. We just need to do a better job of protecting him. It starts with me, I have to improve the way we’re going about doing that and fix some of those errors.”

But, like Patricia, Cooter wouldn’t get into specifics about Stafford’s performance.

“I’m really not huge on getting into player evaluations through the media and all that stuff. We talk through all that stuff in-house here, that’s sort of Detroit Lions information,’’ Cooter said. “We’re talking through everything, evaluating every snap during the game, during practice, what we’re doing well, what we can do better. Same thing with, ‘This play’s good, that play’s not that great,’ during a practice week. We’re discussing a lot of things and that’s some in-house business I’m not looking to share with the media.”

Stafford also got a nod of support from ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, who was Stafford’s backup from 2014 to 2016.

Orlovsky shared his thoughts on Twitter: “Just rewatched & studied Bears game for the Lions: This is 100% unbiased & keeping it real 1) I know Offensive ball and QB play really well, & this offense, in and out 2) Matthew played very good. 1 miss-read 1 miss throw. FAR FROM THE PROBLEM 3) They’re struggling to win vs Man.”

Stafford and the Lions play the Carolina Panthers (6-3) on Sunday at Ford Field.

The Lions’ offense has a long way to go and it will be tough against the Panthers’ defense which has 21 sacks so far including three by Julius Peppers.

Stopping running back Christian McCaffrey, who has scored seven touchdowns in the past three games, and Cam Newton who has thrown at least two touchdown passes in eight consecutive games, is a tall order for the Lions defense which has under-performed for the past three weeks.

EXTRA: Patricia canceled practice and instead had a walk-through on Wednesday. He said he’s changing things up due to the schedule of three games in 12 days, ending on Thanksgiving. The media is not allowed to view walk-throughs while practice is open for a short period due to NFL rules.

 

 

 

Five thoughts from Lions coach Matt Patricia on day after loss to Bears

No staff changes on the horizon

ALLEN PARK — Breaking it down, coach Matt Patricia is leaning on hard work, fundamentals and a grind-it-out approach to making improvements after a 3-6 start by the Lions.

They have lost three straight by double digits — including Sunday’s 34-22 loss at the Bears — and now play two games in the next 10 days.

First up are the Carolina Panthers (6-3) who played on Thursday so have had 11 days to prepare for the Lions. Then they face the Bears (6-3) again on Thanksgiving.

Patricia, in his first year as a head coach, has the coach-speak down. It’s the winning that has eluded him.

Five thoughts from his Monday press conference:

1. The coach downplayed any notion that the Lions are not prepared for the opposition each week. “We’re preparing hard every week. I don’t think we’ve walked into any game this year where we haven’t had any idea about our opponent,’’ Patricia said. Maybe so, but from all appearances the Lions are getting out-coached weekly. No doubt they spend hours watching film and work hard at practice. Taking it from the practice field to Sunday? That is often the untold story.

2. He also said they are sticking together — no divisiveness or finger-pointing in the locker room after a 3-6 start to the season. “I think overall the general mood is going to be disappointment for us, I know it’s disappointment from the fans. We’re all trying to get better and we’re all trying to work hard and make sure that doesn’t happen,’’ Patricia said. “We come in every single day and every single week, it’s not easy in the NFL we know that. Part of our job is to go out there and make sure we get better every single day and that’s what we’re trying to do.’’ It’s just something that has not been accomplished yet.

3. Patricia leans big on improving fundamentals on the Mondays after losses. It was no different on Monday. “Definitely some things on tape that we’ve got to get fixed like I mentioned (Sunday). A lot of it has to do with definitely some fundamental issues we’d like to get better,’’ Patricia said. “I think there was some things on tape that could get better from a fundamental standpoint that we worked on last week so that was good. Maybe just a little more consistency in all those areas would be better. We’ve got to keep the emphasis on the coaching part of that make sure that happens during the course and the course of the week.’’

4. Last week, Patricia fired special teams coordinator Joe Marciano after the loss at the Vikings. This was his reply on Monday when asked if there will be more changes: “It was what it was, we’re just pushing forward this week, we’re just on schedule , grinding away. We’re not doing anything right now.’’

5. Ziggy Ansah played in his second consecutive game, after missing six with a shoulder injury. The defensive end did not start and was on the field for just 15 snaps (26 percent of the defense) on Sunday. The previous week it was a dozen snaps (24 percent). “We’re trying to put him in positions where he can make some plays, put him in a situation where he can perform at a high level, but there’s some other players out there on the field we’re using in some different situations – we’re kind of rolling all those guys,’’ Patricia said. “He certainly has a role right now that he’s trying to work through to get better and hopefully get a little bit more as we go through the course of the rest of the season.’’ He didn’t guarantee more work for Ansah, instead saying it’s a work in progress.’’ Ansah had a sack in each of his two previous games this season. But on Sunday, he broke his strong of four straight games with at least a sack.

EXTRA: Sam Martin is OK and said he will play on Sunday against the Panthers. The punter was taken by ambulance to a Chicago hospital as a precaution after the game, but flew back to Detroit with the team. He would not give any specifics.

 

 

Lions play poorly in 34-22 loss at Chicago: Five key reasons they lost third straight

Blame starts with coaching staff

When an NFL coach talks about working on fundamentals midway through a season, it’s a sign that something is not right in the kingdom. That’s exactly what coach Matt Patricia discussed after an embarrassing loss at the Vikings a week ago.

This season, Patricia’s first, was not billed as a rebuild season. This team finished 9-7 last season and was supposed to improve.

So what happened on Sunday in Chicago — a 34-22 beat-down by the Bears — should not have come as a surprise.

The Lions are 3-6. The season is toast. Would they have an outside chance if they ran the table? Perhaps, but the way they have played the last three weeks the odds of winning a Mega Millions jackpot are better.

Sunday’s loss was just more of the same:

1. Matt Patricia does not get a pass. This team was not ready to play. Part of that might be on the players, but he is ultimately responsible. He was welcomed to Detroit as a savior of sorts direct from the Patriots. He has much to prove in his first stint as an NFL head coach. Jim Caldwell was fired because GM Bob Quinn thought the 9-7 team last year was talented and under-performed with Caldwell. Well, guess what? They’ve added two running backs and key pieces on the defense and they continue sliding backward. Those wins against the Patriots and Packers are befuddling. Patricia talks a ton about changing the culture, but Caldwell did a good job of that. Patricia should be fine-tuning this squad, not reinventing the wheel.

2. The defense made Mitch Trubisky look perfect. He nearly was, finishing with 355 passing yards and three touchdowns.. Several of his big-play passes — he threw eight of more than 20 yards — went to receivers who were wide open and it wasn’t even close. Of course the Lions missed cornerback Darius Slay who was out with a knee injury, but not sure his presence would have made much difference. Offensively the Bears finished with 402 net yards compared to 305 for the Lions. At one points the Bears had a 244-44 edge in yards.

3. Matthew Stafford was sacked six times. In the fourth quarter Khalil Mack ran over left tackle Taylor Decker like he was a pylon. There’s blame all around for the sacks. Receivers are well covered which is why Stafford often waits too long. The offensive line was playing without right guard T.J. Lang, but they have to be better. They focused on protection during the week after Stafford was sacked 10 times by the Vikings a week ago. Much more work to do.

4. The offensive fits and starts have become commonplace. Stafford has to run a better show even without Golden Tate. Stafford finished 25 of 42 for 274 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, was sacked six times and had a 74.9 rating. Tate was his go-to guy on third downs maybe that’s why the Lions were 4 of 15 (27 percent) on third-down conversions.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. Rookie Kerryon Johnson (6 carries, a rushing and a passing touchdown) continues to be one of the few bright spots along with wide receiver Kenny Golladay. The running back averaged 3.6 per carry. Golladay (6 catches, 78 yards, 1 touchdown) caught the first pass on the first play from scrimmage and he caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter when it was too late to matter. Without Tate, Golladay has to take advantage of his opportunities. Also it’s up to Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter to get him involved start to finish.

UP  NEXT: Lions host the Carolina Panthers (6-3) on Sunday, Nov. 18 at Ford Field. Then on Thanksgiving they face the Bears again at Ford Field.