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Panthers at Lions: 3 Plays to Love, 3 Plays to Hate

These key plays swung momentum and decided the Panthers 27-24 road win against the Detroit Lions, putting Carolina’s record at 4-1.  

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Plays to Love, Plays to Hate (aka "P2L, P2H") looks at the most significant plays in swinging momentum and impacting the eventual outcome of the game. There is always plenty to hate about NFL officiating, so we will only focus on the plays on the field, not the refs.

Three Plays to Love

2nd Quarter 12:13 – Panthers 3, Lions 10. Panthers ball 3rd-and-1 at CAR 34

The Situation: Mike Shula gets two Plays to Love here. The Panthers first two drives resulted in a punt and a field goal as they fell behind 10-3. Carolina now faced a three-and-out on their third series.

The Play: On 3rd-and-1, Shula went with two tight ends and a fullback, showing run. Cam Newton went play action right then spun left making it look like he would run for the first on a bootleg. But as Newton spun, Ed Dickson also released into a wide open flat with no defender in sight. Dickson caught an easy pass and rumbled 57-yards to the Detroit nine yard line. Two plays later, Shula designed a great misdirection shovel pass that resulted in Christian McCaffrey’s first NFL touchdown, tying the score at 10-10. Well done here, Mr. Shula.

2nd Quarter 2:19 – Panthers 10, Lions 10. CAR ball 3rd-and-7 at DET 43

The Situation: Now Devin Funchess gets two Plays to Love. With the game tied 10-10, the Panthers were nearing field goal range with the two-minute warning approaching. They needed to convert on 3rd-and-7 to turn this into a scoring drive and prevent the Lions offense from getting the ball back before the end of the half.

The Play: On third down Funchess caught a pass over the middle about two yards short of the first. Glover Quin immediately hit Funch, but the Panthers WR powered through the tackle to drag Quin the couple of yards he needed to pick up the first down, extending the drive. Five plays later, Cam Newton threw a beautiful pass over a defender’s head to allow Funch to go up high and come down with a strong touchdown in the back of the end zone. The TD never happens if Funch doesn’t gut out the third down conversion. Two great plays on this drive by No. 17 as the Panthers took a 17-10 halftime lead.

3rd Quarter 10:43 – Panthers 24, Lions 10. DET ball 1st-and-10 at DET 30

The Situation: Carolina took possession to start the third quarter and engineered a long drive which concluded with a Kelvin Benjamin TD and a 24-10 Panthers lead. On the first play of Detroit’s ensuing drive, some defensive magic happened.

The Play: Kawann Short bull rushed straight through Graham Glasgow and strip-sacked Matthew Stafford. Thomas Davis made an alert, athletic play to recover the fumble at the Detroit 23. The play just demoralized the Lions and sucked the air out of the building. The Panthers settled for a field goal and a 27-10 lead. The Panthers wouldn’t score again over the next 25-plus minutes and these three points turned out to the be winning margin in a 27-24 Carolina win.

Three Plays to Hate

1st Quarter 0:31 – Panthers 3, Lions 3. Lions ball 2nd-and-8 at CAR 41

The Situation: Carolina’s defense had yielded a field goal and forced a punt on Detroit’s first two possessions. Then, on the Lions third series, the Panthers defense had a meltdown.

The Play: There were four Plays to Hate over the next five awful plays. First, Luke Kuechly got embarrassed by Theo Riddick on a whiffed one-on-one tackle in the flat, allowing Riddick to pick up 21 yards to the Carolina 20. On the next play, Luke was flagged for a facemask, putting the ball at the Carolina 9. On the subsequent play, Shaq Thompson was also called for a facemask, putting the ball at the 5. Two plays later, Daryl Worley was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, putting the ball at the 1. Not surprisingly, the Lions scored an easy touchdown on the next play to go up 10-3. The Panthers basically gave the Lions these seven points. Just awful.

4th Quarter 15:00 – Panthers 27, Lions 10. Panthers ball 3rd-and-11 at DET 29

The Situation: The Panthers had scored 24 unanswered points and had all the momentum. Early in the fourth quarter Carolina entered field goal range looking to build on their 27-10 lead.

The Play: On 3rd-and-11, fill-in center Tyler Larsen got pushed straight backward by Akeem Spence. Spence was able to swipe at Cam Newton’s arm and swat the ball loose, causing a fumble. The Panthers recovered the fumble but lost eight yards in the process, getting pushed back to the Detroit 37. What was originally a 47-yard field goal was now 55-yards, and Graham Gano missed the kick by a mile. The sack may have cost the Panthers three important points.

4th Quarter 3:28– Panthers 27, Lions 17. Lions ball 3rd-and-10 at CAR 20

The Situation: With just over three minutes left in the game, Carolina had a 10 point lead. The Lions were driving and if the Panthers defense could come up with a stop on 3rd-and-10, they could likely close out the game.

The Play: Shaq Thompson ended up in man coverage on tight end Darren Fells. Fells ran a simple out route – nothing fancy – and Shaq just fell behind him. Fells separated from Thompson, made an easy catch, and ran untouched into the end zone. Shaq just got burned, and suddenly the Panthers big lead was cut to a precarious 27-24 margin. Fortunately, the Panthers offense was able to run out the rest of the clock and secure the big win.

Closing It Out and Summing It Up

There were some definite “sphincter-clenching moments” late in this game, but the Panthers closed it out for an impressive road win.

Glory Hallelujah, Ed Dickson! Five receptions (on five targets) for 175 yards! His receptions went for 18, 64, 57, 13, and 23 yards. Who needs Greg Olsen? (Kidding, kidding)

Cam looked like his 2015 MVP self: 26 of 33 for 355 yards and three TDs. Someone please get Cam a sponsorship deal with Rust-Oleum, because the man is no longer “rusty.” This includes Cam’s perfect pass to Kelvin Benjamin on 3rd-and-9 with 2:30 left to convert a clutch first down and end the game.

Overall great protection from the Panthers patchwork offensive line in keeping Cam generally clean, but they did a terrible job opening holes for the running game. Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey combined for just 28 rushing yards on 21 attempts.

Excellent play calling by both Mike Shula on offense and Steve Wilks on defense. For Wilks, he dialed up two separate fourth quarter blitzes for Shaq Thompson and Captain Munnerlyn to come off the left edge, and both resulted in devastating sacks.

The biggest negative from today were the sloppy penalties. In the end, Carolina was penalized 11 times for a whopping 100 yards. And some of the penalties were just dumb, like two flags for 12 men in the huddle (including the first play of the game?!) and a baffling late hit by Matt Kalil.

I’m also a bit concerned about Luke Kuechly. He suddenly looks...mortal. He just seems a step slower this year. It feels like he’s missed more tackles in the last three games than he did in his entire pre-2017 career. Is it just me, or has Luke slipped this year? What’s going on with Luke?

But hey, the Panthers are 4-1 and sit atop the NFC South. It’s all good.

Keep Pounding!

“P2L, P2H” Season Leaders

Plays to Love

6 PTL - Devin Funchess

3 PTL – Mike Shula

2 PTL – Cam Newton, Mario Addison

1 PTL – Charles Johnson, Curtis Samuel, Daryl Worley, Ed Dickson, Fozzy Whittaker, Graham Gano, Kawann Short, Luke Kuechly, Russell Shepard, Thomas Davis, Tyler Larsen, Wes Horton

Plays to Hate

4 PTH – Luke Kuechly

2 PTH - Cam Newton, Captain Munnerlyn, Shaq Thompson

1 PTH - Christian McCaffrey, Daryl Williams, Daryl Worley, Graham Gano, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Kalil, Mike Adams, Ron Rivera, Tyler Larsen


Which Play to Love had the biggest impact on the game?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    2nd Quarter - Dickson’s 57-yarder sets up McCaffrey’s TD
    (148 votes)
  • 47%
    2nd Quarter - Funch converts on 3rd down, then ends the drive with a TD
    (208 votes)
  • 18%
    3rd Quarter - Kawann Short strip-sacks Stafford, setting up a FG
    (80 votes)
436 votes total Vote Now