On some Sundays, everything just breaks right.
The Carolina Panthers were due for one of those — a day when they played very well and also had the ball bounce exactly the way they wanted. It happened Sunday, and Carolina whipped Detroit 20-0 at Bank of America Stadium.
It was Carolina’s first shutout since 2015, when the Panthers blasted Atlanta, 38-0 on Dec. 13, 2015, on the way to the Super Bowl.
The Panthers played superbly on defense. Averaging 25.2 points per game, Detroit never scored, gained only 185 total yards and saw quarterback Matt Stafford sacked five times.
The Panthers also got a little help.
Carolina fumbles at its own 10-yard line? No problem; the Panthers recovered.
Detroit throws a 51-yard TD pass on a trick play? No problem; the Lions were lined up incorrectly.
Both strong-legged kickers need to attempt a 50-plus field goal? No problem; Carolina’s Joey Slye made his from 56, while Detroit’s Matt Prater missed his from 51.
Slye misses another fourth-quarter field goal? No problem; Detroit ran into the kicker, and Slye made it the second time.
Throw in the fact that the Panthers (4-7) played what was by far their best defensive game of the season, led by a ferocious pass rush from Brian Burns. Then there was the fact that backup quarterback PJ Walker, the former XFLer, was more than adequate in replacement of Teddy Bridgewater.
With all of that, the Panthers constructed a surprisingly easy victory over the Lions (4-6) on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
The Carolina offense played very respectably despite missing both Bridgewater (knee) and star running back Christian McCaffrey (shoulder), who has only played in three games this season.
Nevertheless, the result was Carolina’s first win since Oct. 11 at Atlanta, and a load of firsts for Walker, who was once Panthers coach Matt Rhule’s starting quarterback at Temple, was making his first NFL start and got his first NFL win.
Rhule had a decision to make Sunday when he determined Bridgewater wasn’t ready to go; the call for Walker over Will Grier proved to be the right one. Rhule said he thought Bridgewater could have played at 80-85%, but that his gut told him that wasn’t the right thing to do, especially given how much Bridgewater relies on his movement.
▪ Walker wasn’t perfect by any means. While he had his first NFL touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel in the third quarter, he also threw two interceptions in Detroit’s end zone, negating what would have been a chance at least for two more Slye field goals. The Panthers lost the turnover battle, 2-1, which is rare in a shutout.
▪ Kudos to the Panthers’ game entertainment staff for having fun with the selection they make for each teams’ walk-in music in the pregame. While they serenaded the Panthers with AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” owing in part no doubt to Carolina’s all-black uniforms, they used Air Supply’s “All out of Love” for Detroit.
▪ After the Carolina defense could only force two punts combined in their previous four games, they forced four punts in the first half alone Sunday. Detroit punter Jack Fox had exactly as many punts in that half as the Lions had first downs (four apiece) in that half, and it got no better for the Lions in the second half.
▪ Although DJ Moore had a fine 127-yard receiving day, his one pass attempt was forgettable. On a double reverse, Moore tried to hit PJ Walker on a route but grounded a 10-yard pass about five yards short of his target.