FIRST DOWN: GOLLADAY STEPS UP
Wide receiver Kenny Golladay is a pretty quiet and reserved guy, so it was good to see him show a little playful side with a quick dance to celebrate his diving 19-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that ended up being the game-winning score in Detroit's 20-19 win over Carolina.
"He doesn't say much and those guys with that quiet confidence, I feel good about," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said of his receiver after the game. "He's a guy that competes, you guys see it rarely out there but he makes some big plays and starts to celebrate. That's the only time we see him show emotion, too.
"I'm just happy for him, obviously he's put a lot of work in. He had a lot on his shoulders coming into this game against a really good opponent and a good corner, I was happy for him."
With veteran Marvin Jones Jr. sitting this one out due to a knee injury, the Lions needed the second-year receiver out of Northern Illinois to be a big factor in the game, and he was.
Golladay caught eight of his 14 targets for 113 yards and that score. He more than doubled the receiving output of the next receiver for the Lions.
Double-teamed and contested most of the day, it didn't matter for Golladay as he made a number of big plays in the game, whether it was stealing a ball from cornerbacks along the sideline or eluding tackles to get first downs.
"I go in there every week the same," Golladay said. "You never know who, what number's going to be called. Any time my number's called, I'm out there going hard. Even when my number's not called, I'm going hard to set up other people. I didn't treat this week no different, there was never no pressure."
It's something Lions head coach Matt Patricia has seen coming for Golladay all year, as he now leads the team with 47 catches for 714 yards with five touchdowns, which ties Jones for the team lead.
"I just can't say enough good things about the way he prepares every single week and he approaches the game," Patricia said of Golladay. "I think I've talked about this all year just how that transfer into that second year in the NFL how different things can be from a cover standpoint and how they can play him and how the people around him affect how they play him. It's good to see him still kind of just push through that and grow from that standpoint. The one thing about Kenny is he works."
SECOND DOWN: SLAY IN PURSUIT
After sitting out last week's loss in Chicago, a game in which the Lions gave up 355 passing yards and three touchdowns, Lions All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay returned to action Sunday against Carolina.
Slay defended a deep pass intended for Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess in the first half, and finished with four tackles and two passes defended, but his best play of the game came early in the third quarter.
On the opposite side of Slay's coverage, Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore caught a short pass along the left sideline and was able to avoid a tackle by Lions cornerback Mike Ford, cut inside safety Glover Quin, and get off to the races. But Slay, coming from the other side of the field, showed off that 4.3 speed of his and chased Moore 82 yards down the field to the Lions' 12-yard line.
Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey had runs of three and five yards, respectively on Carolina's next two plays. Then quarterback Cam Newton was sacked by Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis on 3rd and 2. When Panthers kicker Graham Gano bounced the ensuing 34-yard field goal try off the left upright, Carolina came away with no points.
It's one of those plays by Slay that every football coach should show his team. Slay never gave up on the play, and saved seven points in an eventual 20-19 game.
"It's a huge play," Patricia said after the game. "It's a great effort play. Just great hustle and great pursuit. That's a really fast guy he's chasing, fortunately we had a faster guy for that moment."
Credit Detroit's defense coming back from that play and keeping Carolina out of the end zone and ultimately off the board. It was a big play in the game that won't really show up on the stat book.
THIRD DOWN: PROTECTING STAFFORD
After allowing 10 sacks and 17 hits two weeks ago in a loss to Minnesota, then another six sacks and eight hits last week in Chicago, Detroit's offense, and especially the guys upfront, needed a bounce-back game in a big way against Carolina.
It's exactly what Detroit got, and it's one of the big reasons why the Lions were able to play efficiently on that side of the football for the most part.
Stafford was sacked just once all game, and that was the only time he was hit. It did happen to come from veteran Julius Peppers, who's sacked Stafford at least once a year for the last nine years playing for the Bears, Packers and now Panthers.
"We all know, everybody has seen it over the years," Lions left tackle Taylor Decker said. "We keep Stafford upright and he can make some plays. He's pretty phenomenal back there, give him a little time. Again, I think a huge part of that is staying on schedule, and being able to run it, then throw some screens or whatever it may be.
"Instead of having to get back into a drop-back-every-play-sort-of game. Sometimes that's what the flow of the game dictates, I think we obviously like to be able to start fast."
Detroit's offensive line also did a pretty good job opening some holes for running back Kerryon Johnson, who rushed for 87 yards on 15 carries (5.8 average) and a score. The Lions finished with 96 rushing yards, and Stafford completed passes to six different receivers.
That wouldn't have been possible without much better play than Detroit's received upfront along the offensive line the last two weeks.
FOURTH DOWN: LIMITING MCCAFFREY
Running back Christian McCaffrey has been a go-to guy for the Panthers all year as both a runner and pass catcher. He's elusive in the open field, and a tough runner when he wants to be. He entered Sunday's game with four rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns, and was coming off a game against Pittsburgh last week where he scored three times.
Credit Detroit's defense for doing a pretty good job on him Sunday. McCaffrey rushed for 53 yards on 13 carries (4.1 average). His season average was closer to 5.0 coming in.
He caught six passes for 57 yards, but one of those was a 34-yard play late in the fourth quarter when a Lions defender fell down on the play. Other than that, he had 23 yards on five receptions.
There were a number of very good one-on-one open field tackles on McCaffrey from Lions defenders that prevented big plays. Slay, Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs come to mind right away, but there were others who helped limit the elusive McCaffrey all game.