Lions vs. Panthers recap: Carolina smothers Detroit with dominant running game

The Detroit Lions went into Saturday’s game with a strong feeling about how they played. If they could win each of their last three games, they would almost certainly make the playoffs – a dream scenario given their 1-6 start.

But from the start, they were physically dominated in their game against the Carolina Panthers. Carolina controlled the line of scrimmage as both running backs, D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, each had 100 yards rushing at halftime. The Lions offense could not keep up due to an early, costly turnover from Jared Goff and an ongoing game that continues to struggle.

The Panthers led 24-7 at halftime and the Lions couldn’t even make the final score look any better in a second half where both teams seemed to be idle.

The loss won’t drop the Lions from playoff contention, but their path will be much more difficult. And if they play like that again, they have absolutely no chance of making the top seven NFC teams. Let’s hope this is a wake-up call for the Lions and not a final, crushing blow to their season.

This is how the game went on Saturday.

first quarter

The Lions won the coin toss and resigned, giving the ball to the Panthers first. Carolina got off to a promising start with a 30-yard run from Chuba Hubbard around the left end. He followed up with a 35-yard run on the next play and the Panthers were already in the red zone. A few plays later, quarterback Sam Darnold ran the option, threw it to Raheem Blackshear, and the Panthers scored after just five rushing plays. 7-0 Panthers.

The kickoff that followed went wide, giving the Lions a good starting position on their own 40-yard line. After two incomplete passes, Jared Goff went deep to DJ Chark, who caught a contested catch for a big 39-yard gain.

From there, the Lions went down another third with a 13-yard gain to Amon-Ra St. Brown, who set the Lions up first and goalscorer. The Lions quickly conceded with a play-action touchdown pass to Shane Zylstra. 7-7 tie.

The Panthers’ rushing game continued against the Lions’ defense. D’Onta Foreman shot 21 yards on the first rush of the next drive. A false start and a tackle on Alim McNeill forced the Panthers into third and sixth in midfield, but Ian Thomas dropped a potential first down (which would have been called back for a penalty). Carolina punted to Detroit’s 9-yard line.

Detroit exited their own end zone with a second pass to rookie James Mitchell, who was 22 yards long. Goff then completed a pass to his third different tight end, with Brock Wright putting Detroit in midfield with an 11-yard gain. St. Brown held a hard catch for another 19 yards to the Panthers’ 34-yard line.

That catch pushed Amon-Ra St. Brown past 1,000 yards, becoming the youngest Lions player to ever do so.

The Lions got into another tricky situation: Fourth and 1 from the Panthers’ 22-yard line, and Detroit picked it up while Jamaal Williams went 2 yards forward and into the red zone. The Lions were driving as the first quarter drew to a close.

second quarter

Caliph Raymond put the Lions in a goal-to-go situation with a skillful end around the game, but it was all for nothing. Goff fumbled the next snap and Panthers defenseman Yetur Gross-Matos recovered at his own 9-yard line.

The lions’ defense fought on. A play-action pass to Tommy Tremble immediately gave Carolina 18 yards. Then Foreman broke a couple of tackles for another explosive run, this time for 38 yards. They pushed down inside the 5-yard line with an option run from Darnold. He did it again two games later for a 3-yard touchdown run and a 14-7 Panthers lead.

Detroit quickly went three-and-out as consecutive Goff passes were knocked down at the line.

A holding penalty on the punt put the Panthers back within their own 10-yard line, but it didn’t matter much. Darnold hit Terrace Marshall Jr. for a 36-yard shot with Jerry Jacobs in close coverage to move toward midfield. Foreman followed up with a 21-yard run and the Panthers were back in scoring position. A quart-and-inch quarterback sneak kept the drive alive. A few plays later, Foreman batted him in for a 4-yard touchdown. 21-7 Panthers.

Detroit had two minutes to narrow it down to a one-goal game. Instead, they went back in threes, giving the Panthers 59 seconds to extend their lead. Another explosive play on the floor – a 33-yard gain from Hubbard – quickly put Carolina in midfield. A penalty kick against each team kept the Panthers out of the end zone, but they got close enough to pin a field goal and go into halftime with one 24-7 Panthers lead.

Third quarter

The Lions offense failed to start the second half as Goff was sacked in third place by Brian Burns for Detroit’s third straight three-and-out.

The Panthers drove into midfield and found themselves in a third and 13. The Lions sent pressure that didn’t get there, and Darnold found DJ Moore for a 47-yard bomb.

He went straight back to Moore for a 5-yard bubble screen for another touchdown. 31-7 Panthers

After the team traded punts, the Lions closed the gap late in the third quarter. A 56-yard bomb against Calif Raymond put Detroit within striking distance, and Goff again found Zylstra in fourth for a 7-yard touchdown pass. Detroit chose two but failed. 31-13 Panthers.

fourth quarter

A personal foul penalty from Isaiah Buggs helped the Panthers move into field goal range, and Carolina picked up three more points just over 13 minutes from time. 34-13 Panthers.

Detroit had an opportunity to narrow it down to a two-point lead, but they couldn’t manage to convert deep in Panthers territory in fourth and fifth, and after that it was curtain call.

Zylstra would add a touchdown in garbage time with four minutes remaining, his third of the day. 34-20 Panthers.

But a failed onside kick would put the final nail in the coffin, and teams would trade field goals for the final score 37-23 Panthers.

The loss drops the Lions to 7-8 in the season and abruptly ends the playoff talk. The postseason isn’t out of reach for the Lions, but there’s no room for error anymore.

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