Lions’ playoff chances dim after 37-23 loss at Panthers

On a day when the Lions needed their best effort, nothing seemed to work in a 37-23 loss to the Panthers at Carolina on Christmas eve.

Coach Dan Campbell said his team wasn’t physically, emotionally or mentally ready to play and he placed the blame squarely on his own shoulders.

“They got after us pretty good. That’s a hard pill to swallow. You say things but ultimately when you play that way it falls on me, I didn’t have them ready to go,’’ Campbell said. “That wasn’t good enough. That was a hungry team we played and we didn’t look as hungry as they did. That’s the bottom line.’’

For starters, the defense was pitiful, allowing 240 rushing yards in the first half and 320 overall rushing. It was the most rushing yards the Lions had allowed since 1998. Detroit’s defense gave up 570 yards total.

An embarrassing day for the defense which had been playing solid football in the winning stretch. It looked more like the defense from the 1-6. 

“A couple of things we hadn’t done in weeks or we’ve done a good job of – we don’t turn the ball over on offense and we stop the run on defense – and those two things didn’t happen today,’’ Campbell said.

Despite the embarrassing loss, the Lions’ playoff hopes are slim but remain alive. But no matter what else happened around the league, they have to reset to face the Bears next Sunday at Ford Field. Then they wrap up the season on Jan .7 or 8 at Green Bay. Detroit did get help with a Chiefs’ win over the Seahawks, 24-10; a Vikings win over the Giants, 27-24; and a 49ers 37-20 win over the Commanders.

On the plus side, tight end Shane Zylstra had three touchdown catches, getting his third with less than 4 minutes left. The Lions didn’t give up, but the deficit was just too big. Jared Goff was 25 of 42 for 355 yards and the three touchdown passes to Zylstra. He fumbled a snap, and the Panthers recovered on Detroit’s 9-yard line in the first quarter. A touchdown there would have given the Lions a 14-7 lead.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

(Up next: Chicago Bears (3-12) at Lions (7-8) at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 1. The Bills beat the Bears, 35-13, on Saturday.)


Five things to watch as the Lions face the Panthers; plus prediction

When the stakes go higher for the Lions — like they will against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday — the team’s temperature must go down. That’s the way coach Dan Campbell sees it and he’s guided this team to six wins in the last seven games to make a playoff berth a possibility.

The Panthers (5-9) still have a shot at the playoffs so the Lions (7-7) can’t take them lightly. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Give Campbell credit for keeping the focus on each day and each game instead of the big overall playoff picture. So far they have kept marching forward, keeping the outside noise on the outside.

“I kind of feel like – if it was going to happen, it would’ve happened last week because I felt like all of sudden there was this big – all this attention and everybody wants a piece of the players and coaches,’’ Campbell said. “And so, if it was going to happen, it was then. I think because that was a big swing, we were in the sewer before that and then all of a sudden, we’re – life’s great. So, I feel like, alright, we’re through it. 

“Now, to me it’s – man, the emphasis is on – there again, you can never lose sight. You’ve got to respect the opponent and what they’re capable of. They’ve got a chance to win this division, they’re very much in the hunt. So, we understand that. We identify that. We know it’s a physical unit, but the other thing is, man, you don’t know. This is a – we’ve got an opportunity and you just don’t know when these opportunities are always going to be there, and so we can’t let this slip through our fingers,’’ the coach added.

Five things to watch:

1. The defensive game plan will be similar to last week which resulted in a win over the Jets. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said first- and second- down efficiency will be key. “That has got to be on point because what you don’t want with this team, you don’t want to get them in a third-and-short because when they get into a third-and-short, I guess third-and-5 or less, man, it’s really first and second down for them because they will still run the ball in those situations,’’ Glenn said. “So, now you can’t really anticipate what they’re going to do. So, as far as framing this game, we have to do everything we can to be really, really stout.”

2. The offensive line probably doesn’t get enough credit for keeping Jared Goff safe. All they have to do is keep it up. Goff hasn’t thrown an interception in six straight games and hasn’t been sacked in the last two games. In the last seven games since the 6 of 7 win streak started he’s been sacked 6 times. In the previous 7 games when the Lions started 1-6 he was sacked 13 times. Carolina’s Brian Burns has 10.5 sacks so far this season. “It’s a catch 22 for me as I’m calling it because I mean, they come to the sideline and they ask for more runs. But yet, when they’re protecting that well, let’s throw it a little bit more, good things are happening. But no I joke around with them about that, but no they’ve done a great job,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “It’s them doing a phenomenal job with their technique and fundamentals in pass protection, but it’s also a testament to our route runners being disciplined, playing fast, being at the right depth and our quarterback’s playing with timing and anticipation.’’

3. Emphasis has been to improve the run game in recent weeks. They’ve had 100 yards rushing or more in the last three games – all wins. Johnson said he’d love to run the ball more but the negative runs really hurt. “We need to be efficient, and we need to get going, stay on schedule and ahead of the sticks. We were in too many second-and-longs last week, and it made our lives difficult, so yeah no, I think they certainly recognize it’s something that we’ll continue to address as the week goes on too,’’ Johnson said. ” And that’s kind of been the story of our season: fires pop up. We’re just in a race to try to put them away, and sure enough, another week comes by, and other fires pop up, so it’s our cycle right now.”

4. It’s been a slow roll-out for rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams. In his first three games he has one catch – a 41-yarder for a touchdown.The Panthers’ defense will have to keep an eye on him when he’s on the field. He and Jared Goff are building chemistry during practice. “It’s a weekly process, and I think it is coming along. We try to push Jamo a little bit more every week in terms of the routes we’re asking him to run, not just for the game, but also for his development and for Jared’s chemistry with him,’’ Johnson said. “We’re trying to see what he’s capable of, and what he’s comfortable with at this point coming off that injury. So, I think we’ll continue to see a growing connection between those two. It’s just time on task.”

5. Don’t play not to fail. This is a young team finding its swagger and learning to win. As the stakes get higher, Campbell has to make sure they don’t get too tight. The coach talked to them at halftime of the Jets win and it worked and he doesn’t think it will be an issue moving forward. “They know that. I don’t feel like I need to beat that one over the head. They get it, and it’s been acknowledged, and now it’s – listen, I think we have a pretty good idea of who we are, where we’re at, and I think more than anything, it’s about – look, we’ve got some guys in this locker room that have won now. I mean we do,’’ Campbell said. “Alex (Anzalone) has won. Jamaal (Williams) has won. (Michael) Brockers has won. Shoot, (Kalif Raymond) Leaf’s won, and then we’ve got a whole slew of young guys that don’t really know. They don’t know any better, and that’s kind of a good thing, honestly.’’

(Prediction: Lions 31, Panthers 21. It could be a Merry Christmas for the Lions if all three units continue to play solid football.)

Lions’ road record bodes well for playoff push; Elliott update; quote of the day

ALLEN PARK — With a playoff berth a definite possibility, the Lions will play two of their last three games on the road. On Saturday they’re at Carolina Panthers, then home to the Bears on Jan. 1 and finishing the regular season at Green Bay on Jan. 7 or 8.

After winning three straight away from Ford Field, winning on the road doesn’t seem to be a major factor moving forward. 

The Lions have won at Chicago, at the New York Giants and on Sunday at the New York Jets. The win over the Bears was the first road win since Dan Campbell took over as coach.

So what’s the deal? This team is maturing and gaining confidence across the board. They’re well prepared at home or on the road.

When Campbell was asked about the road success on Monday he had to take a minute to come up with an answer.

“Look I think I go back the hardest thing for the offense is to be able to function with a silent cadence. It’s easy to say if you’re really disciplined on what you do and you get an environment and crowd noise and momentum, that will shift to the home team at some point but if you’re very disciplined you can work your way out of it,’’ Campbell said. “We’ve done a good job of it, we don’t let the momentum go so far the other way that we can’t swing it back in our favor. In some of the most critical moments we’re making the play to finish it out.’’

That is the key to winning six of their last seven.  In those last three road wins the Lions were either tied at the half (Bears, Jets) up had the lead. At the Giants they were up 17-6 at halftime. 

At 7-7, the Lions are 3-3 on the road and 4-4 at Ford Field.

Quote of the day: Campbell was asked about the progression of rookie Aidan Hutchinson. He had plenty to say, ending with this: “He’s got a knack for trying to punch at balls – footballs that is. He does everything. It’s not just one thing it’s the totality of it, he does everything and has gotten that much better,’’ said Campbell without hesitating after the ‘balls’ comment even when the media laughed.

Elliott status uncertain: DaShon Elliott injured his shoulder midway through the third quarter on Sunday and didn’t return.  His shoulder was still tender and he was having testing done on Monday. Campbell said he expected to know more later in the day. If he can’t go on Saturday at the Panthers, it’s likely C.J. Moore or Ifeatu Melifonwu will get the nod.

“C.J. has served in that role. We’ll look at him, we have Iffy as well. It will be the combination of who gives the best opportunity on defense but also on special teams and the team in general. Let’s put our guys in positions that are going to help us the most,’’ Campbell said.

(Up next: Lions at Panthers (5-9), 1 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 24)