The Detroit Lions didn't return home with a sack of coal from a road trip where they were expected – and expecting –- to strengthen their playoff possibilities against the Carolina Panthers.
What they came back with after a 37-23 loss was the question of whether they can survive the pressure of a playoff race.
That will be answered in the final two games, and there were no encouraging signs in the Lions' performance in the one-sided loss to the Panthers.
The Panthers were the better team from start to finish. The Panthers mauled the Lions up front to pile up 570 yards, with 320 coming on the ground.
"Chalk it up to me," head coach Dan Campbell said in his postgame press conference. "I didn't have them ready to go. That's the bottom line."
The loss ended the Lions' three-game winning streak and dropped their won-loss record to 7-8. It did not eliminate them from the race to make the NFC playoffs as a wild card.
The loss reduced the Lions' margin of error. They most likely have to win their final two games – at home against the Bears and on the road against the Packers in the regular-season finale.
More important than calculating playoff possibilities is doing a deep dive on what lead to such a poor performance with so much at stake.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at Saturday's key breakdowns and if that was completely unexpected, Campbell's take on what happened, and where the team stands going forward.
There are also takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, what's trending and the bottom line.
We start with Dan Campbell:
1. Coach's take: Campbell sounded philosophical at times in his postgame comments, but it was clear he did not like what he saw from his team.
He expected a tough game from the Panthers, and that's what the Lions got.
"The way they came at us didn't surprise me a bit," Campbell said. "I thought we'd be ready for it."
What surprised him was the team's reaction, or the lack of it.
"You didn't see the fire that we had," he said, referring to previous games. "There was just something missing out there. We got hit a couple times. We could not stop the bleeding."
More important, they could not stop Carolina's running game. The onslaught started early and didn't stop until the Panthers had the game in hand.
The Panthers gained 30 yards on their first play from scrimmage. Than ran on the next four plays to complete a 78-yard TD drive on five running plays for a 7-0 lead.
2. Run stats: They were amazing for what the Panthers rung up on the ground, and for how the Lions had no answer for the Panthers' attack – and for how the Lions' run game has dropped off.
The Panthers' 320-yard explosion could not have been expected. In the previous week's loss to the Steelers, they rushed for 21 yards, with a long gain of five yards.
The Lions' defense has been strong against the run. In the last two games the Jaguars and Jets combined to gain 72 yards on 39 carries.
On the flip side, the Lions' running game has wilted in recent weeks. They rushed for 4.0 yards or more per carry only once in the previous four games.
The Lions ran for 45 yards on 17 carries with quarterback Jared Goff leading the way. He had three carries for 15 yards.
3. Look ahead: Campbell made no excuses for the Lions' performance, but he left no doubt that his players will be back to work next week.
"You get what you deserve in this league," he said. "That's why you love it. We got exactly what we deserved by the way we played. We deserved that, just like we deserved what happened before that. We deserved the six wins before that.
"When they (the players) get back, I'll make sure they're ready to go."
View photos from the Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers Week 16 game at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 24 in Charlotte, NC.
4. Takeaways, offense:
- More on the run: The Lions had only three first downs rushing. That's no way to control the ball.
- Hat trick: Tight end Shane Zylstra had five catches. Three were for touchdowns. That's an example of maximizing opportunity.
- Hit squad: The pocket wasn't as protective as usual for Goff. He was sacked twice and hit seven times.
5. Takeaways, defense:
- Scoring binge: The defense gave up points on four of the Panthers' possessions in the first half – three TDs and a field goal.
- Untouchable: Panthers QB Sam Darnold didn't get any grass stains on his uniform. The Lions did not have a sack or a quarterback hit.
- Effort: Credit to defensive lineman John Cominsky for running down a Panthers player late in the game to make a tackle from behind and keep him from getting to the end zone.
6. Takeaways, special teams:
- No returns: Punter Jack Fox averaged a gross of 51.5 yards on four punts with a net of 48.8.
- Long return: Running back Justin Jackson had a 40-yard kickoff return.
- Up: Another big play for wide receiver Kalif Raymond. His only catch of the day was a 56-yard catch when he had to make an adjustment to get under the ball for the reception.
- Down: Defense. No explanation needed. Stats did not lie.
- Even: Another solid game from wide receiver DJ Chark who had four catches for 108 yards.
8. Bottom line: You don't get many opportunities like the one that fell in the Lions' lap Saturday when their competitors for a wild card berth all lost. It's one they won't forget soon.