Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Panthers 24, Lions 7: Detroit buried under own mistakes in loss to Carolina

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford went 70 passes before throwing his first interception of the season.

On the one hand, that's the longest Stafford has ever gone without a pick to start a season -- a sign that, perhaps, Jim Caldwell's teaching are taking hold.

On the other, Stafford chose a pretty bad time to make his first mistake. It came Sunday in what would become a 24-7 Detroit loss at Carolina.

Stafford forced a ball to Calvin Johnson, despite double coverage, and had it tipped into the hands of defender Melvin White. The Panthers marched the other way for another touchdown.

Suddenly, instead of facing a 13-7 deficit with 10 minutes to play, Detroit trailed 20-7. And that was too much.

The Lions suffered their first loss of the season, 24-7, and now return home -- short-handed in the secondary -- to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the first divisional game of the year next week.

Detroit (1-1) caught a break when Carolina (2-0) elected to sit star defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted in the offseason of domestic violence, and the Lions sprinted up and down the field to open the game.

The Lions outgained Carolina 126-15 in the first quarter -- yet the game remained scoreless due to a slew of mistakes. Notably, Joique Bell lost a fumble -- and nearly another -- and placekicker Nate Freese missed on a pair of 49-yard field goal attempts.

Detroit had 194 yards of offense in the first half, but did not score until Jed Collins' 1-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. That gave the Lions a 7-6 lead, but it would prove to be their only lead.

Starting Lions nickel back Nevin Lawson, playing for the injured Bill Bentley, also succumbed to injury in the third quarter and the Panthers promptly started moving the ball against Detroit's otherwise impressive defense.

The Panthers reeled off the game's final 18 points.

Detroit, meanwhile, continued to kill itself. Rashean Mathis committed pass interference in the end zone, leading to one touchdown. Jeremy Ross lost a fumble on a kick return. Ndamukong Suh had a sack wiped out by a Devin Taylor tripping penalty on the ensuing drive, and the Panthers cashed in on a 38-yard field goal.

The Lions were in a winnable road game, but made too many mistakes to overcome the short-handed Panthers.

-- Reserve defensive lineman C.J. Mosley played more snaps than normal, with Nick Fairley hampered by an unknown injury, and certainly made the most of them. Mosley sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton twice -- and celebrated both by striking Newton's patented "Superman" pose, perhaps as retribution for Newton calling Ndamukong Suh "Donkey Kong" during the week.

-- Newton is one of the league's most elusive quarterbacks, but the Lions tagged him for five sacks. Mosley was terrific, but there was a lot of pressure coming from all sides. Those guys are humming.

-- Stephen Tulloch, playing just a few miles from where he played his college ball at N.C. State, led the defense with 10 tackles. That includes three for loss, plus one of those sacks. Noble effort from the linebacker, as well as the defense, both of which played well while the offense couldn't muster much.

-- Injuries continue to mount for the Lions. They started this game with their third-stringer at right tackle, and started it with their third-stringer at nickel back (Cassius Vaughn). Nevin Lawson, playing in the place of Bill Bentley, was carted off the field with a left foot injury. With Bentley already out for the year, plus injuries to safeties Don Carey and James Ihedigbo, that secondary is stretched extremely thin heading into next week's game against ... Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Gulp.

-- Stafford wasn't great, finishing 27 of 48 passing for 291 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But his offensive line was even worse. Stafford was under duress throughout the game, and especially in the fourth quarter. Facing a 24-7 deficit late in the fourth quarter, Stafford was sacked on back-to-back plays to snuff out any hope for a comeback. On the ensuing drive, he took another. Stafford also hopped a few times coming off the field, indicating he'll be sore coming out of this one.

-- Bell lost one fumble, and nearly lost another that was instead ruled an incomplete pass. He also lost a fumble last week -- though that one was recovered by Detroit -- and really needs to improve his ball security. He's been the Lions' best threat on the ground, with Reggie Bush spinning his wheels to open the season, but won't be used if he can't be trusted to hang onto the ball.

-- Garrett Reynolds, signed four days ago, started at right tackle for the injured LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard. He appeared to get nicked up himself on the first series of the game. He was replaced at the start of the fourth quarter, though it's unclear whether that was injury or performance based.

-- Calvin Johnson caught a pass for the 108th straight game, breaking Herman Moore's team record of 107. He also became the sixth player in NFL history to register 9,500 receiving yards through his first eight seasons -- and has 14 games to add to that feat.

-- Starting corner Darius Slay, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and receiver Golden Tate all left with injury scares before returning. Slay and Tate returned to their posts full time, though C.J. Mosely appeared to shoulder more of the load up front for Fairley.

-- Linebacker Travis Lewis crumpled to the ground after a punt in the fourth quarter. He did not put much weight on his right leg as he was assisted off the field. He did not return.

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