ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions could have gained the advantage for an NFC wild-card playoff berth with a victory last weekend.
They instead got run over by the Carolina Panthers on Saturday, 37-23. Detroit coach Dan Campbell doesn’t necessarily look at it as a bad thing. He's trying to spin the outcome into a positive.
“It stings. It’s awful. But man, it’s the best thing that could happen to us,” Campbell said Monday. “No matter who you are and whatever you do, some of your best work is when you get your face kicked in.”
The Panthers steamrolled the Lions on the ground, rushing for a franchise-record 320 yards.
“There was a lack of aggressiveness, a lack of finish, a lack of detail, a lack of discipline,” Campbell said. “It was a number of different things that showed up that were very uncharacteristic of how we play.”
The good news for the Lions (7-8) is that most of the other contenders for the final two wild-card spots — the New York Giants (8-6-1), Washington (7-7-1) and Seattle (7-8) — also lost over the weekend. Green Bay (7-8) crept back into the picture by winning at Miami.
Detroit plays its final home game against Chicago on Sunday, then heads to Green Bay for the regular-season finale.
The Bears also present a challenge to the Lions' run defense, mainly due to the mobility of quarterback Justin Fields.
“We’re going to do everything we can in our power to correct everything that came up,” Campbell said. “We’re going to make sure we’re ready, 100 percent ready. We’ll prepare for every look Chicago has. ... Our front seven and DBs, they’re going to be ready to roll.”
When the Lions dealt T.J. Hockenson to Minnesota at the trade deadline, the expectation was that their remaining tight ends would be an afterthought in the passing game. That hasn’t been the case. Brock Wright scored the decisive 51-yard touchdown against the New York Jets and former practice squad member Shane Zylstra caught all three of Goff’s touchdown passes against the Panthers.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The obvious concern is patching a run defense left in tatters by Carolina’s unheralded offensive line and running backs. After allowing a total of 167 rushing yards in their three previous games, the Lions were gashed by the Panthers. Detroit’s interior linemen and middle linebacker Alex Anzalone were particularly vulnerable as Carolina produced one big gain after another on simple rushing plays up the middle.
The Lions were eagerly anticipating what rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams could do once he completed his rehab from knee surgery. Williams’ lone reception in four games was a touchdown catch against Minnesota. Concurrently, D.J. Chark has given the pass game a spark with 90 or more receiving yards in three of those games. He caught four passes for 108 yards on Saturday.
When the Pro Bowl selections came out, some people felt Lions CB Jeff Okaduh was snubbed. During a good portion of the second half, Okaduh was snubbed by his own coaches. He got benched after missing some tackles and giving up a 47-yard pass play to D.J. Moore during Carolina’s opening possession of the half.
RB Jamaal Williams departed during the third quarter on Saturday with a leg injury. Campbell didn’t have an update on his status for Sunday’s game.
15: Lions running backs D’Andre Swift and Williams were a non-factor on Saturday. They combined for 23 rushing yards on 11 carries. Quarterback Jared Goff led the team with 15 rushing yards on three carries.
Recapturing the intensity, focus and execution they displayed for seven weeks prior to Saturday’s debacle is a must for the Lions’ home finale against the three-win Bears. A victory will keep them in the playoff picture, regardless of how the other teams fighting for the final two NFC wild-card spots fare.