CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Detroit Lions had every reason to be confident when they arrived at Bank of America Stadium.
Their offense was on roll and their defensive issues — particularly stopping the run — appeared to have been resolved. They’d won six of seven games, vaulting into contention for a wild card spot.
That’s what made Saturday’s 37-23 loss to Carolina all the more inexplicable. The Lions allowed the Panthers to pile up a franchise-record 570 yards — including 320 on the ground. D’Onta Foreman (165 yards) and Chuba Hubbard (125) both rushed for career highs.
“That team wanted it more than us,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “They were hungrier. They were ready to go. They got after us.”
With NFC wild-card contenders losing everywhere, Detroit (7-8) had a chance to move into playoff position. The Lions came in trailing Washington by a half-game for the final wild-card spot. That’s where they remained, thanks to losses by Washington (7-7-1) and Seattle (7-8). Green Bay and Tampa Bay (both 6-8) play Sunday.
With the game tied at 7, the Lions were driving for a go-ahead score when Jared Goff fumbled a snap from center and Yetur Gross-Matos recovered at the Carolina 8.
The Panthers drove 92 yards for a touchdown and went on to score 24 consecutive points to take a 31-7 lead and put the game out of reach midway through the third quarter.
“A couple of things we do a good job with weren’t happening,” Campbell said. “We usually don’t turn it over and we usually stop the run. It didn’t happen today. You get what you deserve in this league. That’s why we love it. We earned what we got today. And we earned the six wins that we got before this.”
The Lions knew they had to stop the Panthers’ running game and make quarterback Sam Darnold beat them.
But on the game’s first two plays, Hubbard ripped off runs of 30 and 35 yards.
Detroit’s defense had given up an average of 84 yards rushing over the previous five games. The Lions got mauled on Saturday, allowing 7.4 yards per carry and three TDs on the ground.
Several Panthers players said they believed from studying tape they could take advantage of Detroit’s linebackers and safeties overcommitting to the run.
“We know from watching film that they were going to attack downhill,” Foreman said. “The biggest thing for us was just being patient and let it happen and once they committed and got up to the line that we just had to be in the right spot and hit the holes and be explosive.”
That’s exactly what Foreman and Hubbard did. The Panthers had seven runs of at least 20 yards.
“They just ran a simple gap scheme (with) double teams and bounced it out and we have no support,” Campbell said. “We just weren’t hitting on all cylinders. We got hit in the middle. We got hit in the perimeter. We got hit in every way you can get hit in the run game. We just didn’t handle it well. We weren’t physically, mentally or emotionally ready today.”
The Lions will almost certainly need to beat Chicago and Green Bay in their final two games to have any chance of making the playoffs.
“We were kind of in a position to control our own destiny and we kind of fumbled it away,” offensive tackle Taylor Decker said. “All we can do now is go and play these next two games. We have two divisional opponents coming up, and whatever happens, happens, but at the end of the day you have to play for pride.”
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