When F’s become A’s. Grading the Panthers in their 20-0 win over the Detroit Lions.

Jonathan M. Alexander
·4 min read

The Panthers’ five-game losing streak, which dates back to Oct. 18, but felt much longer, was finally snapped Sunday against the Lions.

The Panthers won 20-0 in large part because their defense was so good. And their offense, which was without Teddy Bridgewater and Christian McCaffrey, did just enough to win the game.

The Panthers’ 46-23 loss to the Buccaneers earned some of Carolina’s defensive units “F’s” in last week’s report card. But this week, some of those same units shined.

Here is this week’s report card:

Passing offense

C: The Panthers’ offense looked like it was in a world of trouble when the Panthers announced that Bridgewater was inactive. Backup quarterback P.J. Walker found out he was making his first career NFL start the day of. It was a roller coaster-like afternoon for Walker.

He looked comfortable at the start. He connected on six of his first eight passes for 105 yards. He threw a beautiful 51-yard pass to wide receiver DJ Moore up the left sideline.

Walker then threw an interception in the end zone in the second quarter.

But after halftime, he came out firing. He completed his first 9 passes for 90 yards, including a touchdown.

Then he threw another questionable interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter with no receiver in sight.

Moore had one of his best games of the season. He had 7 catches for 127 yards. Curtis Samuel had 8 catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line, which was down a few starters, gave Walker time to throw.

Walker completed 24 of 34 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Rushing offense

C-plus: The Panthers’ rushing offense was pretty good, but could have been better. The Lions entered Sunday’s game with the third-worst rushing defense in the league and allowed 141 yards rushing per game to opposing running backs.

The Panthers mixed it up with starter Mike Davis and backup Rodney Smith. Davis finished with 64 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. He made defenders miss and had a few nice runs.

Smith had 29 yards on eight carries, but also had a fumble, which the Panthers recovered. Moore had a 21-yard run.

This was the Panthers’ eighth game without McCaffrey, who is out with a AC joint separation. His timetable for return is unclear.

Passing defense

A: The Panthers’ defense played their worst game of the season last week against the Bucs. They gave up a season-high 46 points and three passing touchdowns against Tom Brady.

Sunday, Stafford was sacked five times. He didn’t have much time in the pocket to find open receiver. The Panthers were also helped by a few Lions drops.

This was the Panthers’ best defensive performance, and their first shutout since 2015 — the season they last made the Super Bowl.

And this was without top cornerback Donte Jackson, who missed Sunday’s game with a turf toe. Rookies Troy Pride Jr. and Stan Thomas-Oliver filled in for Jackson and did not give up any big plays.

Defensive ends Brian Burns and Efe Obada had two sacks each Sunday, and rookie Yetur Gross-Matos also got to Stafford.

Rushing defense

A: The Panthers forced the Lions to abandon the run early, which wasn’t working in the first place. The Lions were without running back D’Andre Swift, which certainly helped.

Future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson struggled to pick up any meaningful yards. He finished with seven carries for 18 yards rushing. Backup Kerryon Johnson added 17 yards on six carries. The Lions’ longest run was for eight yards. This defensive performance came a week after the Panthers gave up 194 yards rushing to Bucs’ Ronald Jones II, including a 98-yard score.

Linebacker Jermaine Carter started for Tahir Whitehead, who has struggled this season. Carter had four tackles, and will likely start moving forward.

Special teams

A: Panthers kicker Joey Slye hit both of his field-goal attempts Sunday. One was from 37 yards out and the other was from 56 yards. The 56-yard field goal was Slye’s longest made kick this season, and his first from 50 yards or more.

He had attempted four field goals longer than 50 yards prior to Sunday’s game, including a 65- and 67-yard attempt. Both were at the end of games, and both missed.

Coaching

A: The Panthers’ coaching staff received an F last week after a terrible second half where the Panthers gained only 35 yards in the third and fourth quarters combined. The defense and the offense were horrible.

This week, with Bridgewater out, the Panthers appeared prepared. The defense was at its best, drawing up perfect blitzes. And the offense made plays when needed.

They played well in the third quarter, which had been their Achilles heel. Walker threw a touchdown. And the defense held the Lions scoreless. Considering the circumstances, the Panthers the coaching staff deserved this A.