Detroit Lions grades in loss to Panthers: This is the most F’s we’ve handed out this year

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions after Sunday’s 20-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers.


The Lions played their worst offensive game in more than a decade, and fault for that despicable performance falls at the feet of many people beyond Matthew Stafford. The offensive game plan lacked creativity, the blocking was not great, and playing without D’Andre Swift and Kenny Golladay did not help. But Stafford, playing with a bad thumb, completed just 54.5% of his passes (18 of 33) for 178 yards and struggled to even get the Lions into scoring range. He gets credit for playing turnover-free football, and he was the victim of several drops. But facing one of the NFL’s worst defenses and with his team clinging to faint playoff hopes, he needed to be better to give the Lions a chance. Grade: D-minus

JEFF SEIDEL: After shutout loss, how does Matt Patricia remain Lions coach?

Running backs

The Lions were futile in their attempt to run the ball Sunday. Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson combined for 35 yards on 13 carries and neither had a run longer than 8 yards. Peterson started in Swift’s absence, but dropped a pass on his only target of the game and showed none of the vision that’s helped make him a surefire Hall-of-Famer. Johnson proved only slightly more effective on his six carries. He lowered his head and plowed over Tre Boston on an 8-yard run just before halftime and converted a third down with a 7-yard catch. Without Swift, though, the running game was impotent, to be polite. Grade: F

[ Blame Darrell Bevell and Stafford, if you must, for this Lions loss ]

Wide receivers/tight ends

The Lions had one explosive play, a throwback pass to Marvin Jones that nearly went for a touchdown, but it was nullified by a penalty on Jones for illegal formation. Outside of that play, the Lions rarely challenged Carolina deep, and when they did they were not successful. T.J. Hockenson led the Lions with four catches for 68 yards, but he dropped a third-and-6 pass midway through the second quarter and missed a block on Juston Burris on a third-and-2 toss to Johnson that went for a 1-yard loss. Jamal Agnew also dropped a pass early in the fourth quarter, when he started bracing for a hit before securing the ball. Jones (four catches, 51 yards) was the only other receiver with more than 16 yards receiving against a Panthers secondary playing without its best cornerback. Grade: F

[ Your turn to grade Lions performance vs. Panthers ]

Offensive line

It wasn’t a banner day for the Lions’ offensive line. Along with subpar run blocking, the Lions allowed five sacks against a team that entered the week last in the NFL in sack rate. Some of those came late in the game, with the Lions scurrying to catch up, but Tyrell Crosby got beat for sacks on speed rushes by Brian Burns and Efe Obada, Obada left Jonah Jackson grasping at air on a sack he shared with Burns, and Taylor Decker got beat for his first sack of the season by Burns and appeared to have a miscommunication with Johnson on another. Even the usually reliable Frank Ragnow drew a holding flag on the opening drive that was declined and had a bad snap on the Lions’ first half fumble. Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai was ineffective enough that the Lions benched him for the second half. Grade: F

[ How bad was Lions’ shutout loss? Only the second time in 18 years ]

Defensive line

Everson Griffen did not do much that showed up in the stat sheet — he had one pass break up — but he proved effective as a pass rusher on Carolina’s two-minute drive before halftime. He beat Trent Scott on the opening play of the drive bad enough that Scott committed a false start penalty on the second play, then nearly got to P.J. Walker with a nice spin move. Romeo Okwara also drew a hands-to-the-face penalty on the same drive. John Penisini had four tackles, including one on Carolina’s second series when he shed a blocker to get to Mike Davis in the backfield, and Nick Williams got his hands up to deflect a pass on the game’s opening series. On the negative side, Chris Reed drove Danny Shelton back 5 yards into the end zone on Davis’ touchdown run and the Lions gave up another 116 yards rushing. Grade: C-plus


Jamie Collins had a game-high nine tackles and one pass breakup, though he did miss a tackle early on DJ Moore in the open field. Collins stuffed Walker at the goal line on Carolina’s second possession, though Davis eventually got in the end zone. Reggie Ragland (three tackles) had a big hit to force a fumble on Rodney Smith that the Panthers recovered. The Lions, for some reason, started Jahlani Tavai and Christian Jones at linebacker rather than Okwara up front. Tavai finished with four tackles, and Jones had none. Grade: C-plus

Defensive backs

Walker, making his first NFL start, mostly had his way with the Lions secondary, completing 24 of 34 passes for 258 yards. Moore beat Jeff Okudah for a 52-yard gain to set up Carolina’s first touchdown, and again for a 10-yard slant in the third quarter. Okudah did make a nice tackle on Smith to prevent a big gain. Amani Oruwariye and Desmond Trufant had interceptions in the end zone to snuff out scoring drives, and Oruwariye — who remains the Lions’ best cornerback — made a good read to thwart a screen pass to Moore. Trufant got beat on a touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel in the third quarter and a 20-yard pass to Moore on the same drive, and Will Harris made a nice play to blow up a bubble screen that went for a 3-yard loss. Grade: C-minus

Special teams

Jack Fox will see his net punting average take a hit, but he punted the ball well overall. He had a 56-yarder with impressive hang time to start the game and dropped four punts inside the 20. Matt Prater missed another long field goal, pushing a 51-yarder wide left. The Lions got little out of their return game as Carolina kicked touchbacks all day, but they committed a couple costly special teams penalties. Justin Coleman was flagged for running into the kicker to give Joey Slye a second chance to make a short kick, and Okwara was called for encroachment when the Panthers lined up to punt on fourth-and-6 with 1:55 to play. One snap later, on fourth-and-inches and with Carolina lined up under center, Williams jumped offside to essentially end the game. Grade: D-plus


The Panthers are one of the best-coached teams in the NFL, and on Sunday the Lions looked like one of the worst. They did nothing to force Carolina out of its defensive game plan and showed little creativity with personnel. Defensively, things weren’t all bad, but the Panthers, with an XFL refugee at quarterback, could have easily put up two more touchdowns if not for Walker interceptions. Matt Patricia appears to be on his last legs as a head coach, and if he cannot get his team playing with more life than it showed Sunday, he’ll be out of a job sooner rather than later. Grade: F

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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