Justin Rogers, Bob Wojnowski, and John Niyo break down the Detroit Lions' 20-19 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Detroit — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions' performance in Sunday's 20-19 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Matthew Stafford was solid, not spectacular in the win. He completed 23 of 37 passes, with the majority of the incompletions a mixed bag of drops, missed throws and receiver/quarterback confusion. Stafford saved his best for late, as he's done throughout his career, putting two passes into windows where only Kenny Golladay would make the grab. That wasn't the case early in the game, when Golladay bailed his quarterback out, yanking a sure interception out of the defensive back's hands. Grade: B
Kerryon Johnson was back to looking electric until an injury ended his day in the third quarter. He finished with 87 yards and was well on his way to his third 100-yard outing. Theo Riddick chipped in nicely in the passing game, catching five balls for 30 yards, but had an ugly drop in the second half, while LeGarrette Blount continues to disappoint, netting 1 measly yard on seven carries. Grade: B+
Wide receivers/ Tight ends
Golladay and Stafford had some hiccups, with fault shifting between the two on miscommunications, but the duo connected on a number of key grabs, including two huge completions on Detroit's game winning drive. As noted above, Golladay also saved a turnover and had another nice play where he ran through two tackle attempts to convert a first.
Bruce Ellington offered a mix bag in his debut, countering mistakes with some intriguing potential in the open field. He finished with five receptions for 62 yards. The other receiving options combined for two catches and 15 yards, but we have to shower Andy Jones with some praise for his excellent block of linebacker Thomas Davis on Johnson's touchdown run in the first quarter. Grade: B
They weren't asked to pass protect long, but after allowing 16 sacks the past two weeks, it was good to see the blockers give up just one hit this week, a Julius Peppers' sack in the fourth quarter. In addition to solid pass protection, the run lanes for Johnson were good enough. Grade: A-
The pressure wasn't consistent, but at least it wasn't non-existent. Ziggy Ansah, still being used primarily on third-down passing situations, recorded a third-down sack. Plus, the entire front did a nice job shutting down the Panthers' ground game, limiting Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey to 55 rushing yards on 15 carries. Grade: B+
The linebackers also did their part against the run, while providing a pair of third-down sacks. Devon Kennard had the first, while also chipping in another tackle behind the line, and Jarrad Davis brought down Newton in the second half, firing into the backfield on a blitz. Grade: B+
Detroit's defensive backfield was dissected by Newton on the opening possession, and on a pair of fourth quarter drives, but played steadily through the middle portion of the game, outside of one massive breakdown that resulted in an 82-yard gain.
Darius Slay broke up two passes in his return and also chased down D.J. Moore on that 82-yard reception, preventing a touchdown that led to a missed field goal. And while it proved inconsequential, rookie Tracy Walker made a good, physical play to intercept his first pass. Grade: C
Finally, special teams came through with a solid showing. Kicker Matt Prater was perfect, including a 54-yarder he crushed in the first half. Sam Martin had a strong day punting, in part due to outstanding work from gunners Charles Washington and rookie Mike Ford. The return game didn't do much, but they didn't make any mistakes and there were no penalties. Grade: A-
When the Panthers marched down the field to start the game it was easy to believe the Lions were in for another long day, but some solid defensive adjustments helped slow the potential offensive onslaught.
Offensively, the team continued its conservative approach with Johnson's usage, leading to some lulls, but when the rookie running back was lost for the game, the offense made some nice adjustments in crunch time to pull out the win. Also, you have to like the way the short-passing game got back on track to counter the team's recent pass protection issues. Grade: A-