Experience doesn't guarantee anything. Neither do incentive and opportunity.
That's what we learned in the Detroit Lions' 20-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers Sunday.
The Lions failed to take advantage of so many factors that were tilted in their favor, as follows:
Experience: It was heavily weighted in the Lions' favor at quarterback, the most important position in North American team sports.
P.J. Walker made his first NFL start in place of Teddy Bridgewater, who was made inactive on gameday because of a knee injury sustained in Carolina's 46-23 loss to Tampa Bay the previous week.
Before Sunday, Walker had played in two NFL games, both this season, and completed three of eight passes for 15 yards.
Before Sunday, Matthew Stafford had played 158 NFL games, all starts for the Lions. He had passed for more than 43,000 yards and 273 touchdowns.
Quarterback advantage, Detroit Lions by a wide margin. As it turned out, it meant nothing.
View photos from Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers Week 11 game at Bank of America on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020 in Charlotte, NC.
Walker, the NFL novice, completed 24 of 34 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown. He had two passes intercepted. Both were in the end zone.
Stafford, playing with an injured right thumb, completed 28 of 33 passes for 178 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a TD pass to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. in the third quarter called back because of a penalty for an illegal formation.
Bottom line: The Panthers overcame the quarterback mismatch by winning the other matchups. Their defensive line led a charge that sacked Stafford five times. Their offensive line protected Walker well enough, giving up just one sack to make him feel comfortable.
It also helped that Carolina rushed for 116 yards to only 40 for the Lions – who didn't have a single first down rushing.
Incentive: Also weighted heavily in the Lions favor. A victory would have improved their won-loss record to 5-5 and put them in the playoff race, especially with NFC North rivals Green Bay (7-3) and Minnesota (4-6) losing and Chicago on a bye with a 5-5 record.
The Panthers went into the game with a 3-7 record, five straight losses and no realistic hope to make the playoffs. But for whatever reason, Carolina was by far the more motivated team.
It didn't matter why. It mattered that they were.
Opportunity: With injuries to both teams, backups had a chance to showcase themselves.
Walker was the primary beneficiary for Carolina, but running back Mike Davis continued to play well in Christian McCaffrey's absence. Walker got strong support from the receives – Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel.
Looking ahead: The Lions are underdogs at home for Thursday's game with the Houston Texans.
From what we've learned, that means nothing – even if it's logical. It will be decided on the field.