Let’s face it.
The Carolina Panthers (6-4) should have slapped around the Lions (4-6) on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field, especially in light of the tire fires Detroit has been frantically trying to put out left and right for the last few weeks.
But instead, Carolina gave Detroit a 20-19 gift. And they wrapped it in many different boxes. In every phase of the game, the Panthers erred.
The Panthers’ No. 1 receiver dropped five passes. Their usually accurate kicker missed a field goal and an extra point in a dome. Their No. 1 cornerback erred twice on one scoring drive. A defense in years past known for its physicality whiffed on important tackles.
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But the biggest gift of all couldn’t even fit under the tree.
It was like those commercials we see every December, with a shiny new car smack in the middle of the driveway and a massive red bow on it: A failed two-point conversion attempt after a comeback touchdown. Planted right where all the neighbors — including the exploding NFC-South-favorite Saints — could see it.
A failed two-point conversion with 1:07 to play that could’ve won the game. Carolina’s gift to Detroit.
On the play, quarterback Cam Newton’s receivers were covered and he began to roll left to run himself. But he saw receiver Jarius Wright break off his original route and flash across the end zone. Newton said that because he was starting to run, his feet weren’t set when he threw. The ball sailed over and behind Wright.
Visibly disappointed, Newton ran nearly to the other 30-yard line after missing the throw. He took full responsibility after the game.
“I gotta make that play. I have to make that play,” he said. “Jarius did a great job of kind of improvising. I just have to make that play. ... I let this team down. And I just have to be better.”
But it wasn’t just that play that sank the Panthers on Sunday. And it certainly wasn’t all on Newton, who threw for 357 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Carolina placekicker Graham Gano missed a 34-yard field goal and an extra point in a dome where not a breath of wind was to be found.
Newton’s offensive line erred in crucial situations. He was sacked three times, and all were on third down.
Curtis Samuel had a touchdown in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 13-all, but in the second quarter he lost on a deep contested catch that he actually should have broken up, resulting in Newton’s lone interception.
The Panthers’ defense missed tackle after tackle as running back Kerryon Johnson rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown through three quarters before having to leave with a knee injury.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford was kept remarkably clean in the pocket by an offensive line that had given up 16 sacks in its past two games.
Carolina only brought him down once. Stafford and the Lions’ offense favored quick passes to alleviate the line, and then missed tackles helped Detroit rack up chunk yards on plays that would have otherwise dink-and-dunked for very little gain. The Panthers even substituted in speedy rookie pass-rusher Marquis Haynes to try to find an answer.
Cornerback James Bradberry missed on an early jump ball against Kenny Golladay in the first quarter that Golladay simply ripped away from him. Then on third and 15 in the fourth quarter, Bradberry as beaten by Golladay for a 36-yard pickup. He also got called for holding Golladay. The receiver scored on Bradberry three plays later.
And in a return to his hometown, receiver Devin Funchess dropped five passes, including three that were deep downfield and one that was on a third down. He dropped three of his first four targets, though a couple were in tight coverage. He also said after the game that he was disappointed in himself on a long 82-yard catch-and-run by rookie receiver DJ Moore, because the man he was supposed to be blocking downfield ultimately ended up pulling down Moore before he got to the end zone.
However, Funchess did make it clear that he didn’t feel as though his performance slowed down the Panthers’ offense as a whole.
“It is what it is. You take my performance out of that game, we still were in it to win the game,” he said. “So it wasn’t just solely on me. I will take full responsibility of myself, most definitely. I have to do more for the team, most definitely”
He’s correct that the loss wasn’t solely on him, much like it wasn’t solely on Newton. But Carolina simply has too many veterans on both sides of the ball to play this type of game. There is too much talent to fritter away drive after drive.
An irate Funchess asked reporters point-blank, in response to questions about coming back on the road from first-half mistakes, if we had watched the Philadelphia game in which the Panthers came back from a 17-point deficit to win by scoring 21 fourth-quarter points.
We did. In fact, that game is indicative of the problem — these guys are capable of being really good, way too good to lose like this.
And everyone, including Newton, knows it.
“I think today was a perfect indication of guys just taking turns making mistakes,” said Newton, who called Sunday’s performance a lack of focus. “And that’s unacceptable. With the caliber of team we are, the caliber of team that we know we can be, the caliber of team that we need to be, it’s just unacceptable.”
Rivera said after the game that there’s no “quick fix” for the types of mistakes players made today.
But it’s almost December. And Carolina is falling behind in the division — and hasn’t even played the 9-1 New Orleans Saints yet. The Panthers are also 1-4 on the road with two of their next three away from Bank of America Stadium.
So whatever “fix” Rivera has in mind needs to be, ah, expedited.
Carolina broke society’s unspoken rule about not putting the Christmas gifts out until at least the day after Thanksgiving.
And Newton said he pulled aside multiple teammates and gave them a pep talk about “creating their own fate” moving forward.
So perhaps the plan will be to just scrap the gift-giving altogether in the month of December.
Nobody likes handmade presents, anyway.