CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)D’Onta Foreman knew the Carolina Panthers’ offensive linemen meant business when they walked into a meeting room following Friday’s walkthrough practice. They were silent, and wearing full-length black ski masks.
To Foreman, it meant the linemen were focused – and ready to bounce back from a disappointing showing the week before.
They did just that Saturday.
Foreman ran for a career-high 165 yards and a touchdown and the Panthers racked up a franchise-record 320 yards on the ground behind a dominating performance up front to beat the Detroit Lions 37-23 and keep their NFC South title hopes alive.
Chuba Hubbard also had a career best by rushing for 125 yards for the Panthers, who had been held to 21 yards on 16 carries in a home loss to Pittsburgh six days earlier.
”Our guys were challenged,” Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks said. ”We got embarrassed last week in so many fashions and they bounced back and showed their true character in how we practiced last week and, most importantly, in how we came out today and performed. Those guys up front accepted to challenge and were coming off the ball.”
Sam Darnold completed 15 of 22 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown and ran for a score to improve to 3-1 as Carolina’s starting QB. Raheem Blackshear and D.J. Moore also scored for the Panthers, who amassed a team-record 570 yards of offense in the coldest game ever played at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers had seven runs of 20 yards or more against a Lions defense that had allowed just 84 yards rushing per game over the last five weeks. Foreman and Hubbard both exceeded 100 yards rushing in the first half as the Panthers built a 24-7 lead.
Both running backs said they felt at times the Lions didn’t even want to tackle them on Carolina’s unforgiving artificial turf.
”Definitely,” Hubbard said. ”We pride ourselves on just wearing on a team, and when it gets cold out here like this, not too many people want to get hit or do any tackling – and that definitely showed.”
Carolina (6-9) can clinch its first division title since 2015 with wins at Tampa Bay and New Orleans.
Detroit (7-8) came in having won six of its previous seven games to pull within a half-game of Washington in the race for the NFC’s final wild card spot entering the weekend.
Lions coach Dan Campbell called the loss ”tough to swallow.”
”Ultimately, when you play that way, it falls on me,” Campbell said. ”I didn’t have them ready to go. That wasn’t good enough. That was a hungry team that we played. And we didn’t look as hungry. That’s the bottom line.”
Jared Goff threw three touchdown passes to third-string tight end Shane Zylstra for the Lions.
The temperature was 20 degrees at kickoff with a wind chill of 9, and the Panthers made it clear they were going to pound the ball. They ran five times for 85 yards on their opening possession and took a 7-0 lead with Blackshear scoring on a 7-yard run. Hubbard, who got the start over Foreman, carried three times for 70 yards on the drive.
The Lions countered with a 3-yard TD pass from Goff to Zylstra. Following a fumble by Goff, the Panthers proceeded to score 17 straight points to close the half by repeatedly running through gaping holes.
Darnold scored on a 3-yard quarterback keeper and Foreman added a 4-yard TD run to make it 21-7.
With 59 seconds left in the half and leading by 14, the Panthers used the running game to go 68 yards in less than a minute and set up the first of Eddy Pineiro’s three field goals.
Carolina had 364 yards by halftime, a first-half franchise record.
Panthers right tackle Taylor Moton, who came up with the idea for the ski masks, said the offensive line learned from last week’s loss.
”We were able to run the ball when and how we wanted to run it and Sam was able to stay up and stay clean and that sounds like a great day at the office to me,” Moton said.
Several Carolina players have complained about the synthetic surface at Bank of America Stadium, and Detroit’s Goff joined that chorus after the game.
”I thought the field conditions were below NFL level standard, specifically pregame,” Goff said. ”It warmed up as the game wore on. I don’t what the deal is here. But they need to figure out a way to make the field not feel like cement. Why that is, I don’t know.”
Lions: RB Jamaal Williams suffered a lower-body injury but returned.
Panthers: Wilks didn’t have an update on CB Jaycee Horn’s injury after the game, but defensive end Brian Burns said Horn broke his wrist in the fourth quarter. … WR Shi Smith (foot, head) left in the third quarter.
Lions: Host Chicago on Jan. 1. The Lions beat the Bears 31-30 on Nov. 13.
Panthers: Visit Tampa Bay on Jan. 1. The Panthers beat the Bucs 21-3 on Oct. 23.
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