What I Liked
When I said the Panthers secondary would be able to contain Calvin Johnson, I never pictured they'd hold him to six catches on thirteen targets for 83 yards and no touchdowns. This performance by the secondary is particularly reassuring considering they will be facing more of the NFL's best recievers in the coming weeks, including Brandon Marshall (Bears), AJ Green (Bengals), and Percy Harvin (Seahawks). The Panthers also held Golden Tate, who was signed from Seattle this offseason, to 57 yards on five catches. They were helped a good deal by the linebackers, as Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly combined for 23 tackles. And we can't forget about the D Line, either, who were given a fairly unpleasant surprise before the game when they were informed that Greg Hardy would be deactivated in light of his domestic violence conviction. However, this proved to be of little concern for them, as Mario Addison, Hardy's replacement, registered 2.5 sacks and two TFLs. The fact that these guys have been able to perform up to their usual standard despite the events surrounding one of their teammates is a good sign of things to come. If Hardy, who has appealed the charges, is found guilty by a jury, the Panthers will almost certainly be forced to release him in order to avoid a PR nightmare much like the one their Week 4 opponent Baltimore Ravens are currently facing. If the D Line can get used to playing without him, though, a potential parting of ways between Hardy and the Panthers shouldn't cause too much of a rift within the front four. The Panthers defense played a tough, gritty game today, repeatedly knocking the ball out of the Lions' hands, even though only one of those was counted as a fumble. They say defense wins championships, and what I saw in this game reminded me of some of the best Super Bowl-winning defenses of the past decade.
What I Didn't
A great showing by the defense helped to mask the Panthers' offensive struggles in this game. Unlike some other games, no one position group could be blamed for it. At times, it was Cam Newton's inaccuracy. At other times, it was Jonathan Stewart's seeming inability to find a hole in the line. And, yes, sometimes the offensive line was inadequate in providing security for Cam, who was sacked five times, and making holes for Stewart, who had 37 yards in 15 carries (15 in 14 if you take away his 22 yard run in the 4th Quarter. Whatever the case, this was a disturbingly poor outing by the Panthers offense, and it's definitely something they'll want to fix immediately. Whether they were flatlining in the form of a three-and-out or making a nice drive down the field only to settle for a long field goal, they looked shaky, indecisive, and occasionally inept. They were only able to find the end zone twice against a mediocre Lions secondary, and one of those touchdowns may not have happened if it weren't for the help of penalty flags. Hopefully, this performance is just a fluke, and we won't be seeing anything like this again. If we do, the Panthers may not be as lucky as they were this time.
The Tipping Point
Melvin White's Interception
It was 13-7, there were about twelve and a half minutes to go in the game, and Matthew Stafford had Calvin Johnson just outside the end zone. If he had scored, the Lions would have taken the lead, and the game would have been placed into the hands of the struggling Panthers offense. It looked like he was going to make the catch...until the ball was tipped by Thomas DeCoud and fell almost perfectly into the hands of second-year cornerback Melvin White. White, who went undrafted out of Louisiana-Lafayette last year, ran the ball back to the Panthers 30, which set up the team's second touchdown. After that, the Lions would never threaten again, and the Panthers simply ran out the clock.
TCSB Game MVP
Not only did they shut down the best wide receiver in the world right now, these guys played a tough, physical game, repeatedly knocking the ball out of the receivers' hands (even though only one was counted as a fumble) and never leaving anybody open. They picked off Matthew Stafford once and almost had him several times, keeping him on his toes pretty much the whole game. This is the best game the Panthers' secondary has had in quite a while, and it should effectively erase any doubts about them.