Heroes to zeroes: Lions offense dreadful in 20-0 pasting by Panthers
Charlotte, N.C. — With the Detroit Lions on the cusp of climbing back into the playoff picture ahead of the season’s stretch run — the key requirement to save the jobs of coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn — the team somehow managed to turn in its most-disappointing performance in a season full of them.
Against a Carolina Panthers team that had lost five straight coming into Sunday, the Lions couldn't muster a single point, getting shut out for the first time in more than 11 years in a 20-0 loss at Bank of America Stadium.
Whether it was the absence of Kenny Golladay, D'Andre Swift and Danny Amendola from the lineup, quarterback Matthew Stafford's injured thumb or a terrible game plan, the Lions' offense never got started.
Detroit had five possessions in the first half and mustered just 89 yards, never driving beyond the Panthers' 45-yard line.
Despite entering the day on pace for the worst third-down defense since the NFL began tracking the stat three decades ago, the Panthers only allowed the Lions to convert on one of their six attempts through two quarters.
And things really didn't get better for Detroit. The team finished with 185 yards of offense and 4-of-17 on third and fourth down.
"Obviously, not fun to be part of a game where we don't score any points, really don't even threaten it, so we gotta play better on offense to give ourselves a chance to win," Stafford said.
Like the Lions, the Panthers were also faced with overcoming significant injuries to their offense. All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey was ruled out earlier in the week and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was scratched a little more than an hour before kickoff after testing out his injured knee before the game.
That paved the way for PJ Walker to make his first start. A star in the XFL, he had thrown just eight passes in the NFL before Sunday.
Walker delivered a mixed performance but came up with enough big throws to propel the Panthers to victory. On the team's second possession, he completed all four of his passes for 84 yards, including a 52-yard bomb to DJ Moore, who outran the coverage of rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah down the left sideline.
Veteran running back Mike Davis, filling in for McCaffrey, capped the series with a 1-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal to put the Panthers up 7-0.
That score held through the half, despite Lions center Frank Ragnow flubbing a snap that gave the Panthers the ball back deep in Lions territory.
"I guess, luckily, throughout my career, snapping has kinda become second nature, but I'm going to have to take a look at it and figure out what happened," Ragnow said. "Maybe I was a little bit too aggressive and I'm not sure, to be honest. But it's unacceptable and I have to be better."
Cornerback Amani Oruwariye bailed Detroit out after the turnover, making a touchdown-saving tackle on second-and-goal before intercepting Walker in the end zone on third down.
"We saw they did that a few times watching on film throughout the week," Oruwariye said. "They gave us what we wanted, kind of just shuffled a little bit, kind of baited it, and then made the play that was in front of me."
Coming out of the half, the Lions' offense continued to struggle, going three-and-out with the opening possession of the third quarter. On the ensuing drive, Walker opened up with a pair of impressive throws, completing an 18-yarder against Detroit's zone coverage before hitting Moore on the move for 20 more.
Three plays later, Walker connected with Curtis Samuel in the back corner of the end zone for the first touchdown of the quarterback's career.
Walker finished his day completing 24 of 34 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Lions appeared to halve Carolina's advantage with a trick play. On the snap, Stafford pitched the ball to running back Kerryon Johnson, who threw the ball back to Stafford before the quarterback connected with Marvin Jones for a 51-yard touchdown.
But the play was called back when it was ruled the Lions had lined up in an illegal formation. Although NFL players should know how to line up correctly, Patricia took the blame.
"Yeah, we were obviously trying to get something there, had a good play that we've been working on here for a while and just didn't get it correctly put in position," Patricia said. "I've gotta do a better job of making sure we have the details handled in that situation."
Carolina extended its lead to 17-0 with a 56-yard field goal by Joey Slye, the longest of his two-year career.
The Lions had a chance to get on the scoreboard early in the fourth quarter, but after Stafford was sacked on third down, Matt Prater missed a 51-yard field goal.
And although it didn't impact the outcome, the game appropriately ended when the Lions jumped offside twice on fourth down to give the Panthers a first down and allowed Walker to take three knees to run out the clock.
Stafford finished 18-of-33 for 178 yards. Johnson and Adrian Peterson combined for 35 yards on 13 carries.
The loss drops the Lions to 4-6. They'll return home to play the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving.
"I've done this, this short-week turnaround, long enough to know that it's really important to have a short memory on this win or lose and go out there and prepare for a team in Houston that got a big win today and is an ultra-talented team," Stafford said. "We've got our work cut out for us."