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Final score: Lions offense woeful early on, Newton leads Panthers to 27-24 victory

Detroit’s offense showed up late to the game between the Lions and Panthers.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

With the Carolina Panthers in town, it was a matchup between two 3-1 NFC teams looking to make a statement as they headed into the second quarter of their respective seasons. Ford Field was lively and into this one from the start as the Lions looked to stake their claim among the elite teams in the NFL.

First half

Detroit won the coin toss and wanted the ball to start this one, and it seemed like they wanted it for a reason. For the first play of the game, the Lions handed the ball off to Ameer Abdullah who looked to pick up right where he left off last week, ripping off a 16-yard run to get the drive rolling for Detroit.

After spreading the ball around to the likes of Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate, the Panthers gave the Lions a free play when they jumped offsides. Matthew Stafford heaved a pass deep down the left sideline for Jones Jr. and that drew a pass interference penalty, which took the Lions all the way down to Carolina’s 12-yard line.

After Eric Ebron dropped a would-be touchdown in the Panthers’ end zone, the Lions would settle for a field goal from Matt Prater to take a 3-0 lead in the early goings of this one.

For the Panthers, penalties were a problem all day long. To start their first drive, the team had too many men in the huddle, backing them up five yards before they could even snap the ball. Carolina’s offense would make a couple of big plays, but an unnecessary roughness penalty on Matt Kalil and a holding penalty on Trai Turner would cause all of that work to go for naught as they punted the ball away after five plays.

The Lions would be on the unfortunate end of a dropped pass, this time by the usually sure-handed Tate, and a quick three-and-out gave the Panthers the ball back. This time, their offense would get things moving through the air as Ed Dickson, Greg Olsen’s replacement at tight end, made a huge catch for 62 yards to put Carolina into the red zone.

Detroit’s defense would hold strong, forcing a Graham Gano field goal, and the game was tied at three apiece.

Theo Riddick, who has been relatively absent in the box score since his touchdown reception in Week 1 against the Cardinals, made this huge play on the Lions’ next drive:

More penalties by the Panthers cost them dearly on this drive, a couple of facemask penalties and a pass interference in the back of the end zone set up the Lions on Carolina’s doorstep in search of the first touchdown of the game. The Lions scored on first-and-goal from Carolina’s 1-yard line on this play, and no, there are no typos to be found here:

  • Zach Zenner with a one-yard run, from I-formation, lined up behind the fullback Nick Bellore, because, you know, football.

Detroit’s defense would force the Panthers into a third-and-1, and once again, the Panthers would lean on their tight end, Dickson, as Newton fooled the Lions with a slick play-action call for a 57-yard gain. The Panthers would score on another nifty play call, this time on a shovel option from Newton to McCaffrey for his first NFL touchdown:

Detroit’s offense looked stagnant for the rest of the half, failing to get much of anything generated through the air, or by ground for that matter. This was highlighted by the fact the Panthers were literally having their way with the Lions defense.

An 11-play, 73-yard drive by Carolina ended in a touchdown pass from Newton to Detroit native Devin Funchess—a play in which Newton had an eternity-and-a-half to survey the Lions’ end zone:

Detroit had the ball with two timeouts and plenty of time to work their way into Prater-range before the end of the first half, but the team might have been better served to head into the locker room down by a score with the way their offense was performing. Jim Bob Cooter instead took the opportunity to try and capitalize on the time remaining, and the Lions offense continued to struggle. The two teams headed into the second half with the Lions trailing, 17-10.

Second half

Carolina’s offense would be out to start the half, and they suffered a bit of an injury scare when Funchess went down near the Lions’ sideline. He would later return on the drive as the Panthers effortlessly moved their way down the field, dinking and dunking the Lions defense into submission until Newton hooked up with Kelvin Benjamin—who beat Darius Slay (!)—on a 31-yard pitch and catch to put the Panthers up 24-10:

The Lions looked to shake off their offensive woes from the first half, but on their first play from scrimmage, Stafford was sacked by Kawann Short and fumbled the ball, and the Panthers recovered it to set up shop in Lions territory. Detroit’s defense held tough, forcing another Gano field goal—this time from 44 yards out—and Detroit trailed by 17.

Detroit’s second drive proved much more fruitful than their first possession of the half in that they didn’t turn the ball over immediately. Instead, Stafford took a sack on third-and-2, and Jeff Locke came back onto the field to punt the ball back to Newton and Co. At this point, the Lions offense was at its lowest of lows:

While the Lions defense began to perk up, forcing a Carolina three-and-out on their next possession, the Lions offense showed some sign of life, only to have their drive stall out at midfield when Zach Zenner and the Lions failed to convert a fourth-and-1.

After the defense showed some more guts, and Gano missed a 55-yard field goal, the offense was back on the field, doing more of the same: Ebron drops, Stafford getting sacked, and the offense proving to be lifeless.

As the Panthers defense attempted to keep everything in front of them and let the Lions offense move down the field and eat up clock, Detroit made their second trip to the end zone as Stafford hooked up with Darren Fells to cap off an 8-play, 69-yard drive with a touchdown to cut the Carolina lead to ten.

And then, after forcing another Panthers three-and-out, Stafford and Fells hooked up for ANOTHER Lions touchdown to cut it to a one-score game. Detroit’s defense had the opportunity to get the ball back to their suddenly alive offense, but Newton and Benjamin hooked up on third-down play to ice the game for Carolina.

Detroit would fall to the Panthers by a score of 27-24. The Lions look to next week’s matchup with the Saints in New Orleans to right the ship and avoid the dreaded .500 mark.

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