DETROIT – The Detroit Lions rallied but came up short while falling to the Carolina Panthers 27-24 in a battle of 3-1 division leaders at Ford Field on Sunday afternoon.
The Lions entered the game as 2.5-point favorites and were tied for first place in the NFC North Division while the Panthers were perched atop the NFC South.
The game was the focus of extra attention due to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who’s been in the spotlight this past week since making controversial comments to a female reporter on Wednesday.
Sunday’s contest began with quarterback Matthew Stafford driving Detroit steadily downfield to a 30-yard Matt Prater field goal for a 3-0 advantage with 11:32 remaining in the opener. That came on the very next play after tight end Eric Ebron dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone.
The two then traded possessions until Carolina knotted the count at 3-all when Graham Gano made good on a 21-yard field goal with 3:51 to go in the first. That score stood up until the initial break.
After a pass interference penalty in the end zone, the Lions retaliated with a 1-yard scoring run by Zach Zenner to retake the lead at 10-3 with 13:32 remaining in the first half.
The Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey then scored his first NFL touchdown on a 6-yard shuttle pass from Newton to retie the score at 10-10 at the 11:04 juncture.
With time winding down until intermission, Newton hit Michigan Wolverine product Devin Funchess with a 10-yard scoring aerial to give Carolina a 17-10 edge with 0:48 showing on the clock.
The second half saw the Panthers come right out and up the bulge to 24-10 as Newton hit Kelvin Benjamin with a 31-yard TD strike with 10:43 left in the third period.
Carolina immediately recovered a Stafford fumble and quickly capitalized with Gano’s 44-yard field goal for a 27-10 advantage with 9:26 to go in the third.
That margin stood until the final frame, when tight end Darren Fells hauled in a pair of touchdown strikes from Stafford — a 4-yarder to slice the gap to 27-17 at the 5:48 juncture followed by a 20-yard TD catch to trim the deficit to 27-24 with 3:22 showing on the clock.
But that was all Detroit could muster before the final gun sounded.
The Lions are now 3-2 entering a trip to meet the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome at 1 p.m. next Sunday.
The Panthers now stand 4-1 going into a short week featuring a home date with the Philadelphia Eagles this coming Thursday night.