Lions not giving up as they host Panthers
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The Carolina Panthers had an array of topics to address during what was certainly a long weekend without a game.
But trying to piece together any sense of the 52-21 loss at Pittsburgh last Thursday night gave the Panthers lots of fodder.
"Guys trying to do things that they don't need to try to do," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "A lot of good things happened for a three-game stretch and unfortunately we made mistakes. Sometimes you've got to take your medicine. ... A very humbling experience to get beat the way we did."
The setback followed a three-game winning streak, so it's not like the Panthers (6-3) are in a freefall.
They're back in action Sunday at Detroit, where the Lions (3-6) hold a three-game losing streak and would certainly appear to be in a much more desperate situation.
The Lions host the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving and the Los Angeles Rams the following week, and likely need wins in all three games to maintain reasonable playoff hopes.
"I'm not saying it's not daunting," Lions safety Glover Quin said. "I'm not saying it's easy, but I'm just saying, I'm pretty sure any other team that's in the situation we're in will take three home games in a row, (then) Arizona-Buffalo on the road, Minnesota back at home and then a close at Green Bay."
Of the Lions' seven remaining games, they play their four toughest opponents -- or the four teams with the best records, at least -- at Ford Field.
Given the time of the season, there's little room for error now.
But Quin insisted there's reason for optimism in how the Lions have played of late, too. The Lions have lost their last three games by double-digit margins after falling behind big early, but they held the Chicago Bears to just eight second-half points in last week's 34-22 loss.
The Panthers know they can't afford to move on without getting some things right.
"We'll come up with some things," Rivera said, noting the extra time for evaluation was put to good use.
The 52 points allowed tied the franchise record for points given up, matching a 2000 Christmas Eve game against the Oakland Raiders.
There were some problems that were situational. For instance, the Panthers didn't handle the Pittsburgh pass rush well, but given the deficit it was clear what Carolina's intentions were. Not detecting what was happening on the fly might have been the biggest cause for some alarm.
"It's being able to recognize certain things," Rivera said.
Because of quarterback Cam Newton's ability to escape trouble in the pocket, the Panthers aren't used to giving up big sacks.
"It is critical," Rivera said. "Guys are going to look at this game and see what (the Steelers) did."
However, the Lions have had no pass rush to speak of during their three-game losing streak. They averaged 3.5 sacks over the season's first six games, but have just four sacks in the last three weeks combined.
"I mean on every single pass play it would be great if we could just sack the quarterback," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. "That's my goal, 100 percent. It hasn't really worked out that way so we're going to try to do a better job with the pass rush."
The Panthers also saw things that hadn't been so painful in the past. Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson was exposed at times, so while it's not out of the ordinary for a first-year player, it's something to address.
And the Panthers aren't about to pin the blame exclusively on the secondary. The defense's pass rush hasn't been up to par.
"We have to keep rolling these guys out until we see something really click on the pass-rush side," Rivera said.
The Lions, however, are having problems protecting their quarterback. Matthew Stafford has caught some heat locally for his recent struggles, but the Lions need to give him more help. Stafford has been sacked 16 times in the last two games and he ranks as one of the most turnover-prone quarterbacks (eight interceptions, three lost fumbles) in the NFL.
The Panthers are hoping that the mini-break with extra time between games proves helpful. Rivera suggested that the players get away from football for a few days, and he liked what he saw when practice resumed this week.
The Panthers scored a late touchdown at Pittsburgh. Rivera said perhaps there's some carryover into the Detroit game from a positive moment on a dismal night.
The good thing is there's plenty more football for the Panthers, who appear in solid shape in pursuit of a spot in the playoffs.
"I'd like to think we'll have more than seven weeks left," Rivera said. "I don't think (the Pittsburgh game was) indicative of the type of football team we are. One game is not going to define who we are going forward."
Updated November 15, 2018