Charlotte — With the Detroit Lions on the cusp of climbing back into the playoff picture ahead of the season’s stretch run — the key requirement to save the jobs of coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn — the team somehow managed to turn in its most-disappointing performance in a season full of them.
Against a Carolina Panthers team that had lost five straight coming into Sunday, the Lions couldn’t muster a single point, getting shut out for the first time in more than 11 years in a 20-0 loss at Bank of America Stadium.
Whether it was the absence of Kenny Golladay, D’Andre Swift and Danny Amendola from the lineup, quarterback Matthew Stafford’s injured thumb or a terrible game plan, the Lions’ offense never got started.
Detroit had five possessions in the first half and mustered just 89 yards, never driving beyond the Panthers’ 45-yard line.
Despite entering the day on pace for the worst third-down defense since the NFL began tracking the stat three decades ago, the Panthers only allowed the Lions to convert on one of their six attempts through two quarters.
And things really didn’t get better for Detroit. The team finished with 185 yards of offense and 4-of-17 on third and fourth down.
Like the Lions, the Panthers were also faced with overcoming significant injuries to their offense. All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey was ruled out earlier in the week and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was scratched a little more than an hour before kickoff after testing out his injured knee be fore the game.
That paved the way for PJ Walker to make his first start. A star in the XFL, he had thrown just eight passes in the NFL before Sunday.
BOX SCORE: Panthers 20, Lions 0
Walker delivered a mixed performance, but came up with enough big throws to propel the Panthers to victory. On the team’s second possession, he completed all four of his passes for 84 yards, including a 52-yard bomb to DJ Moore, who outran the coverage of rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah down the left sideline.
Veteran running back Mike Davis, filling in for McCaffrey, capped the series with a 1-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal to put the Panthers up 7-0.
That score held through the half, despite Lions center Frank Ragnow flubbing a snap that gave the Panthers the ball back deep in Lions territory.
Cornerback Amani Oruwariye bailed Detroit out after the turnover, making a touchdown-saving tackle on second-and-goal before intercepting Walker in the end zone on third down.
Coming out of the half, the Lions’ offense continued to struggle, going three-and-out with the opening possession of the third quarter. On the ensuing drive, Walker opened up with a pair of impressive throws, completing a 18-yarder against Detroit’s zone coverage before hitting Moore on the move for 20 more.
Three plays later, Walker connected with Curtis Samuel in the back corner of the end zone for the first touchdown of the quarterback’s career.
Walker finished his day completing 24 of 34 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Carolina extended its lead to 17-0 on their next possession with a 56-yard field goal by Joey Slye, the longest of his two-year career.
The Lions had a chance to get on the scoreboard early in the fourth quarter, but after Stafford was sacked on third down, Matt Prater missed a 51-yard field goal.
Stafford finished 18 of 33 for 178 yards. Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson combined for 35 yards on 13 carries.
The Lions managed just 10 first downs and 185 yards of total offense (3.4 yards per play).
The loss drops the Lions to 4-6 on the season. They’ll return home to play the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving.