A brutal Sunday: Lions shut out by Panthers

In an embarrassing 20-0 shutout loss, the Detroit Lions proved they indeed are not an NFL playoff team.

Because of their 4-5 record entering the game and their upcoming schedule against teams with losing records, there was a glimmer of hope. That was extinguished at the hands of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

The Panthers, who had lost their previous five games, played a backup quarterback (P.J. Walker) in his first NFL start. They were without running back Christian McCaffrey and still they made it look easy.

“Give them credit, they did a much better job executing than we did,’’ coach Matt Patricia said.

The Lions were missing key players too — Kenny Golladay, D’Andre Swift and Danny Amendola — but no excuse.

Matthew Stafford, playing with an injured thumb, watched as at least three of his receivers dropped catches.

“As far as throwing the ball it felt pretty good,’’ Stafford said about his thumb.

He celebrated a 51-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones Jr., only to have it brought back due to an illegal formation by Jones on the flea-flicker. It was a true microcosm of the game.

After 11 sacks in their first 10 games, the Panthers sacked Stafford five times. As the game wore on, it just looked worse and worse for the Lions. The run game finished with a measly 40 yards with their longest run only at 8 yards.

Detroit’s defense made Walker look like a poised veteran. He did throw two interceptions in the end zone, but he also passed for 258 yards and one touchdown.

It’s time — or maybe past time — to take a good, long look at coach Matt Patricia’s future in Detroit. He’s now 13-28-1 with the Lions. Once again, he didn’t appear to have his team ready and it showed.

Halftime adjustments? Not so much. The Lions’ offense started the third quarter and went three and out. 

Afterward, Patricia was peppered with questions afterward about his future. “I go to work every day to try to earn my job. That’s just what I do,’’ Patricia said.

When Stafford was asked if the team still responds to Patricia, he had a one-word answer: “Absolutely.”

Stafford always puts the blame on himself and his teammates, never points at coaches.

“We have enough talent to go out there and win, we’ve just got to go do it,’’ Stafford said. “We have to play better than we’re playing. I don’t care who you are as a coach if we don’t go out there and play well it doesn’t matter. We need to go out there and play better.’’

The last time the Lions were shut out was on Oct. 18, 2009. It was Stafford’s rookie year but he wasn’t playing due to injury. Quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton threw three interceptions combined in the 26-0 loss at Green Bay.

Stafford didn’t see Sunday’s loss as rock-bottom. Instead to him, it was just one game.

“Believe me, I got here in 2009 and from where we (were) then to where we are now we’re a better organization, a better football team, more talented,’’ Stafford said. “At the moment we don’t have as many wins as we wish we had this year but it’s one football game. We have to move on from it, get ready to play another one and hopefully score a bunch of points and win the game.’’

The Lions (4-6) have a quick turn-around, hosting the Houston Texans at 12:30 p.m. at Ford Field on Thanksgiving. The Texans (3-7) beat the Patriots, 27-20, on Sunday.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Panthers

With a win at the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the Detroit Lions (4-5) could make it back to .500. Injuries, particularly on offense, will make that a tougher assignment even against the Panthers (3-7) who have lost five straight games.

Detroit’s offense has been dinged. Quarterback Matthew Stafford (injured thumb on his throwing hand) is questionable, but knowing his history, odds are he will play.

Not the same story for rookie three others who have been declared out — running back D’Andre Swift (concussion), along with wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola who both have hip injuries.

Five things to watch:

1. Stafford who put the offense on his shoulders last week in the comeback win over Washington, still will have a talented bunch surrounding him if he plays. Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson will step up, same for Marvin Jones Jr, Marvin Hall and Quinten Cephus. Stafford has been limited in practice this week with the coaches trying to find a good balance. “It’s a little bit of a – rest is good, but reps are good. So, trying to balance that all the way out,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. Stafford didn’t get into much detail this week about how the injury could affect his passing.

2. The offensive line, which has suffered its share of injuries in the first nine games, has come up big. It was most notable against Washington’s front four last week. “I think some of the things that they’re doing in practice, some of the time that they get to spend with one another, playing next to each other, it’s been a mix,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “We’ve had to move guys around a lot, but with that, I think it made each and every guy more comfortable with the guy that plays next to them. We’re moving it around in practice all the time, trying to keep the guys – one, trying to keep them healthy, and two, trying to give them some good looks with guys next to them.’’

3. Even though Detroit is coming off a win, the defense still has plenty of work to do especially in the second half. Against Washington the Lions gave up 21 unanswered points in the second half. “I don’t think we’re struggling to play together. We just got to play better. I don’t know if it has anything to do with us – I think we play together whatever it has been, nine weeks now, I think we’ve got a good feel for that,’’ defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. “Not that we played perfect in those nine weeks, but if I had an answer for – I wish I had the answer for having a lead and then kind of turning down the dial, the game plan didn’t really change that much from the first half to the second half. We played lights out in the first half, kind of (un)played exactly how we talk about it all week. We’re going to have to tackle the check downs. They might get some yards, but proud of them how they stepped up down there once they crossed the 50 in that first half. Made some plays and then held them to three points, and then we came out in the second half and tempo got us.’’

4. The Lions are preparing to face quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is questionable to play with a knee injury.  “First of all, his mobility is really difficult, and I would say more than just when he gets out into open space. He does a great job in the pocket,’’ Matt Patricia said. “I think those are – quarterbacks that move really well in the pocket and kind of have that strength to move around and not get pulled down by an arm tackle or knocked down by maybe some pressure from one side or the other, and his ability to move, to get into some open space, and then redirect his eye downfield, I think that’s where he just becomes very dangerous. Now look, he can take off and run and then you have a bigger problem when he’s in space, but I think that’s the part to me that’s the most impressive, is when he moves within the pocket, finds that – I’ll call it that little open space for him to settle in – and then get his eyes downfield and find his receivers.” Bridgewater has passed for 13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions this season.

5. Stopping the run has been a tough task for the defense, but they look to catch a break with Christian McCaffery who will miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury. However, Mike Davis could pose a challenge.  “I think Mike Davis – this guy is a really good running back. This guy is strong and powerful. He’s a great cut-back runner, but he can also bounce out to the edge,’’ Patricia said. “So you have to be very disciplined in the run defense or otherwise this guy will hurt you very quickly. He has good speed.’’

PREDICTION:  Panthers 27, Lions 24

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.