O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Looking at one game in the life of the Lions

Matthew Stafford was hunkered down in his Ford Field locker, still sweaty and savoring every moment of the sizzling atmosphere that filled the Detroit Lions' locker room after Sunday's 20-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.

It was an improbable win for a team that has had more probable bad moments than good this season.

"How the heck did you guys do that?" a visitor cruising Stafford's locker asked, referring to how an underdog team had patched holes across the roster.

"It was fun," Stafford said, grinning. "It's always fun when you do something people didn't think you could."

Well, they could and they did – for one game, anyway.

This week's Monday Countdown looks at one game in the life of a football team – takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, Kenny Golladay stepping up and the last word – which had a hollow ring.

We start with the position where football starts – up front:

1. On the line: One of the most important stats of Sunday's game is a testament to the impact the Lions' offensive line has. It allowed one sack – by Julius Peppers, of course – and it was the only time Stafford was hit all game.

He must have felt like a piñata the previous two games, with 16 sacks combined in losses to the Vikings and Bears.

With a depleted receiving corps, the offensive line played like it was on a mission, which it should have been. The running game got going early, and continued until Kerryon Johnson went out late in the third quarter.

"I've been saying it all year – whenever we're able to stay on schedule, it's huge," said tackle Taylor Decker. "It just opens up the playbook. We're able to run play action off it. You're on third and manageable more often.

"Everybody's seen it over the years. When you keep Stafford upright, he can make some plays. He's pretty phenomenal back there if you give him a little time. It's good to get him some completions early.

"We know we have a good group up front. We know we've had some poor performances on our part. At the end of the day, we know we have some good players up front who can play at a high level."

2. Catching on: There were some rough spots in the passing game, which should have been expected with the sudden turnover at the position, and Kenny Golladay had a couple on his own.

What Golladay also had were winning plays. He made catches that extended possessions and ultimately resulted in a 19-yard reception with 5:13 left that stood up as the game-winning catch.

Golladay had eight catches for 113 yards, and he had to work for every catch and yard. He was Stafford's only legitimate receiving threat.

"He did a great job," said head coach Matt Patricia.

That stock quote represents high praise from a head coach who has not been effusive in his praise of players, especially young ones.

3. Big play Slay: One of the biggest plays Darius Slay made Sunday was catching Panthers receiver DJ Moore from behind to prevent a touchdown. It turned out to be an 82-yard gain to the 12.

The Panthers came up empty-handed when Jarrad Davis sacked Cam Newton, forcing a field-goal attempt that Graham Gano rang off the upright.

"Anything can happen," Slay said. "You never know what's going to happen."

4. Kicking points: Gano was just another kicker who had a bad day against the Lions. It was his turn to try to kick through the Bermuda Triangle the Lions have established as their defense against kickers.

Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point in the Packers' loss to the Lions in Week 5. Last week, Cody Parkey missed two field goals and two extra points in the Bears' win.

On Sunday, Gano missed a field goal and an extra point. In the three games, the Packers, Bears and Panthers have missed seven field goals and four extra points.

Sunday's missed two-point conversion – when Cam Newton overthrew an open receiver in the end zone – had nothing to do with bad luck. It was a bad coaching decision.

5. Takeaways, offense:

Run game: The Lions will have to manufacture one if Johnson misses any playing time because of the knee injury he sustained Sunday. He had 15 carries for 87 yards and the game's first TD. LeGarrette Blount had seven carries for one yard. Theo Riddick had one carry for no gain.

Run game, again: Johnson averaged 5.8 yards per carry. The eight other called runs gained one yard on eight carries. Per carry, that works out to 4.5 – inches.

Stafford, role playing: Stafford wins games with his big arm and moxie, but he can manage a game, too. And he did that Sunday. The stats weren't spectacular – 23-37 for 220 yards and a touchdown. But he didn't have a turnover, and there wasn't a single throw that was a risk. And he's one of a handful of quarterbacks who can make the 19-yard throw he made to Golladay for the winning TD. A small handful, at that.

6. Takeaways, defense:

The good: When they were good, they were really good. After giving up a TD on Carolina's first possession, they kept them from scoring on the next six possessions and allowed only five first downs.

The bad: Carolina's three TD drives covered 90, 92 and 75 yards. They had a 78-yard drive that ended in a missed field goal.

Sack specialist: Ziggy Ansah got his third sack. He's played in four games.

On the run: The run defense has improved the last three weeks – except for one big breakdown against the Vikings two weeks ago. The Panthers gained 56 yards on 16 carries, an average of 3.5 yards per attempt. Last week the Bears gained 54 yards on 22 carries, and the Vikings had 128 on 22 with a 70-yard run. Not counting that run, the Lions have given up 168 yards on 59 carries, for an average of 2.8 per attempt.

7. Takeaways, special teams:

On point: The Lions won the kicking contest. Matt Prater, who's been on a roll, made both field-goal attempts from 54 and 32 yards and both extra points. That's eight points to one for the Panthers' Gano.

Starters: The Lions' average possession started at their 32. The Panthers' average was their 16. The Panthers started five possessions inside their 13, one at the 10 and three inside the 10.

Sam, bam: Sam Martin had a gross average of 46.8 yards on six punts and a net of 43.7.

8. Stat to remember: The Lions had one penalty – five yards in the third quarter for an illegal formation. The Panthers were penalized twice for 15 yards.

9. Last word: From Panthers head coach Ron Rivera on the decision to go for a two-point conversion: "We were going for the win."

So were the Lions.

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