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.