Detroit at Carolina

Depleted Panthers send Lions to record road loss

SportsLine.com wire reports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The playoff-bound Carolina Panthers had to make a choice: Rest some of their ailing starters or play them in pursuit a momentum-building win.

The lowly Detroit Lions made it an easy decision.

Carolina rested five starters but still managed one of its easiest victories of the year, beating Detroit 20-14 on Sunday and sending the Lions into NFL infamy with their 24th consecutive road loss.

"You have to operate in the present," said Carolina coach John Fox. "The idea of building momentum going into the playoffs was critical, but I really don't think any of the five guys would have been ready to play."

Carolina's fill-ins did just fine, holding Detroit in check as the Lions moved past the 1981-84 Houston Oilers for most successive road losses. The Lions have not won away from home since Dec. 17, 2000.

"It eats me alive and makes me absolutely sick to my stomach to think about it," said Lions guard Ray Brown. "Everybody on the team is part of the streak, and it's nothing to be proud of."

The Lions (4-11) had just eight first downs and 106 yards of total offense. Quarterback Joey Harrington only played until midway through the second half before Mike McMahon replaced him, but the two combined to go 7-of-19 for 53 yards.

"There's a lot of searching for answers, a lot of things to fix and some things to build on," said first-year coach Steve Mariucci. "These guys care a lot and are determined to break that streak."

Jake Delhomme threw for two touchdowns and John Kasay kicked a pair of field goals to lead the Panthers (10-5) to the leisurely victory they so desperately needed.

Despite winning its first division title in seven years, very few of Carolina's victories came easily. Seven of the 10 are by three or fewer points and eight came in the final two minutes or overtime.

And as much as Carolina needs momentum-building victories to close out the regular season, allowing ailing players time to heal is also a priority.

So running back Stephen Davis, center Jeff Mitchell, defensive tackle Brentson Buckner, defensive end Mike Rucker and cornerback Terry Cousin all watched from the sideline in street clothes.

But their replacements did fine. DeShaun Foster ran for 76 yards and had six catches for 38 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass from Delhomme. Rookie Bruce Nelson's first career start at center was without incident.

Detroit was nearly shut out, but two big plays made the final score closer than then game actually was.

Reggie Swinton returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown to cut Carolina's lead to 20-7 with 12:02 left.

Then Foster fumbled on a late catch and Boss Bailey scooped it up and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown.

The Panthers didn't aggressively try to stop Bailey's return, thinking Foster's drop shouldn't have been ruled a fumble. Carolina challenged, but the call was upheld and the Lions cut it to 20-14 with 3:44 to play.

"That showed a lot about this team," said cornerback Dre' Bly. "We could have easily folded, but we didn't."

Still, those were the lone bright spots on a dismal offensive day for Detroit.

McMahon did put together a decent second-quarter drive, using an 11-yard scramble to move the Lions to the Carolina 24. But his next pass sailed straight into Carolina safety Mike Minter's hands to end the drive.

The Panthers used the interception to set up Kasay's 42-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead.

Kasay, spotty the past six or so weeks, added a 44-yarder in the third quarter that made it 20-0.

"We needed a game that didn't come down to the wire," defensive tackle Kris Jenkins said. "Although the final score doesn't indicate it, we played pretty well and got ourselves in position to close out the season strong."

Notes

  • Bailey had a game-high 12 tackles along with his fumble recovery for a touchdown. ...
  • Ricky Proehl had three catches for Carolina to give him 603 for his career.
  • Carolina receiver Kevin Dyson had two catches for his first game action of the season. His 9-yard reception in the fourth quarter -- originally ruled incomplete but overturned on a challenge -- drew a hearty ovation from the home crowd.


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The Associated Press News Service

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Carolina's Steve Smith starts a 44-yard play by making a catch despite the objections of Dre' Bly.
 
Carolina's Steve Smith starts a 44-yard play by making a catch despite the objections of Dre' Bly. (AP)
 

 

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QTR,
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Scoring Summary
1ST QUARTER
TDSteve Smith, 20 Yd pass from Jake Delhomme (John Kasay kick is good), 10:30. Drive: 5 plays, 51 yards in 2:34.
2ND QUARTER
TDDeShaun Foster, 10 Yd pass from Jake Delhomme (John Kasay kick is good), 8:03. Drive: 9 plays, 84 yards in 5:23.
FGJohn Kasay 42 Yd, 1:54. Drive: 5 plays, 32 yards in 2:10.
3RD QUARTER
FGJohn Kasay 44 Yd, 7:53. Drive: 12 plays, 51 yards in 7:07.
4TH QUARTER
TDReggie Swinton, 89 Yd punt return (Jason Hanson kick is good), 12:02.
TDBoss Bailey, 62 Yd fumble return (Jason Hanson kick is good), 3:44.
Detroit
PassingCP/ATYDSTDINT
M. McMahon4/113601
J. Harrington3/81700
RushingATTYDSTDLG
A. Pinner122208
S. Bryson61705
M. McMahon214011
C. Schlesinger1000
ReceivingRECYDSTDLG
D. Kircus118018
A. Hakim2906
A. Pinner1909
B. Schroeder1909
R. Swinton1606
S. Trejo1202
Carolina
PassingCP/ATYDSTDINT
J. Delhomme29/3526021
RushingATTYDSTDLG
D. Foster2176012
R. Smart92406
J. Delhomme31107
N. Goings111011
B. Hoover1505
S. Smith1-30-3
ReceivingRECYDSTDLG
S. Smith581144
M. Muhammad669029
D. Foster638114
R. Proehl327012
K. Dyson21509
B. Hoover21106
N. Goings21007
J. Wiggins2605
R. Smart1303
Complete Player Stats