| Detroit Free Press
CHARLOTTE — If there was any doubt which direction the Detroit Lions were headed, towards a regime change or playoff contention, they answered it Sunday with their most embarrassing loss of the season.
Facing a defense that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL by just about every measure and an offense led by an XFL refugee at quarterback, the Lions got shut out for first time in 11 years, losing Sunday to the Carolina Panthers, 20-0, at Bank of America Stadium.
P.J. Walker, making his first career start in place of an injured Teddy Bridgewater, threw for 258 yards and a touchdown and the Panthers (4-7) held the Lions to a season-low 185 yards of offense.
The Lions have lost three of their last four games and at 4-6 are mathematically alive for the postseason by realistically headed for an offseason of change.
Matt Patricia is now 13-28-1 as head coach, and the Lions have lost four games by double digits this season and been largely non-competitive in another.
They host the Houston Texans in their annual Thanksgiving game Thursday, and whether ownership decides to make a change after that game, heading into a long week, or after the season, it seems clear Patricia’s days are numbered as head coach.
On Sunday, the Lions mustered little offense against a team that ranked 22nd in the NFL in total defense, 23rd in scoring defense and was last in the league in sack percentage and third down defense.
The Panthers, losers of five straight entering Sunday, had forced just two punts in their previous four games but forced six Lions punts and had five sacks.
Matthew Stafford, playing with an injured right thumb, completed 14 of 28 passes for 140 yards in a mediocre showing that was not entire his fault.
The Lions did not have starting running back D’Andre Swift or receivers Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola due to injuries, and struggled to run the ball – they had 40 net yards rushing – and make plays downfield.
The Lions had one scoring opportunity before a desperation drive against Carolina’s prevent defense, but Matt Prater missed a 51-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter after a Brian Burns sack on Stafford.
Mike Davis accounted for the only scoring in the first half with a 1-yard run on Carolina’s second offensive possession. The Panthers went 95 yards in 10 plays, with 52 of them coming on a Walker pass to DJ Moore over Jeff Okudah.
Walker, who was intercepted twice in the end zone, threw his first career touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel early in the third quarter and the Panthers added field goals on two of their next three possessions.
The Lions had just 89 yards of offense and four first downs in the first half, and Stafford threw for just 54 yards passing in first 30 minutes, his worst first half total since 2013.
Stafford, who completed 22 of 30 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns after suffering his thumb injury last week, has struggled historically while trying to play through hand injuries.
In 2016, he played the final three games of the regular season and one playoff game with a dislocated middle finger and torn ligaments on his right hand. He used a finger-less glove to help grip the football, but threw five interceptions in 19 quarters with the injury and the Lions lost all four games.
In 2011, Stafford played through a broken right index finger. He suffered the injury in an October win over the Denver Broncos, then returned after a bye week to throw nine interceptions in the next three games. The Lions went 1-2 in those contests.
Walker, who starred for the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL before that league folded earlier this year, was tabbed Carolina’s starter about 90 minutes before kick, after the Panthers made Bridgewater inactive after a pregame workout.
He finished 24 of 34 passing.