‘Gamers & Lamers’ in Panthers Vs. Lions Week 11 Game: A Fan’s Analysis

If the Carolina Panthers did not already have Cam Newton(notes) as their young franchise quarterback, you would wonder if they were purposefully tanking games to get into the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. After forcing three first quarter turnovers against the Detroit Lions in Week 11, the Panthers jumped out to a 24-7 lead early in the second quarter. And yet, 42 points later, the Panthers managed to lose. The defense was tired and soft the entire second half. And Panthers fans like me are getting tired of the frustratingly close losses.

While the NFL post game shows cover the scoring plays, I look for the less visible but equally crucial plays that sustain drives, spring the big plays, or change momentum. Here is my analysis, as a Panthers fan, of these key plays, both good ("The Gamers") and bad ("The Lamers") that took place during Carolina's Week 11 road loss to the Detroit Lions.

1st Quarter

13:54, Jordan Gross(notes), LT - Lamer. Score tied 0-0, Car ball on DET 45. Nearing the red zone Panthers QB Cam Newton dropped back to pass on 3rd-and-8. Lions DE Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes) immediately penetrated the line and forced Jordan Gross backward. Gross collided with Newton as the ball was released, and the pass fluttered into the arms of Lions CB Eric Wright(notes). Newton's stats will show an interception, but it was Gross' poor position that was to blame for ending the Panthers promising starting drive.

8:45, Sherrod Martin(notes), S - Gamer. Score tied 0-0, Det ball on CAR 26. On 1st-and-10 Lions QB Matthew Stafford(notes) threw a pass into the end zone. Panthers safety Sherrod Martin tipped the pass near the goal line and CB Charles Godfrey(notes) picked it off, returning the interception to the Lions 18. Godfrey will be credited with the pick, but it was Martin's deflection that caused the turnover.

6:07, Greg Olsen(notes) - Gamer. Score tied 0-0, Car ball on DET 33. On 3rd-and-11 Cam Newton flipped a quick shovel pass to RB Jonathan Stewart(notes) who caught the pass and ran left. TE Greg Olsen threw a nice block that took out two Lions defensive players. WR's Legedu Naanee(notes) and Brandon LaFell(notes) also provided good downfield blocks as Stewart picked up 21 yards to the Detroit 12. The Panthers ended the drive with a field goal.

2:35, Jordan Senn(notes) - Gamer. Panthers lead 3-0, Det ball on DET 29. The Lions faced a 3rd-and-1 and RB Keiland Williams(notes) took a handoff up the middle. LB Jordan Senn came flying through the line and hit Williams in the backfield, forcing a fumble which was recovered by the Panthers Andre Neblett(notes). The Panthers offense took the good field position they were given and scored a touchdown on the next drive.

2nd Quarter

14:04, Kealoha Pilares(notes), KR - Gamer. Panthers lead 10-7, Car receiving kickoff. Momentum was beginning to shift back to Detroit after a touchdown drive. Rookie WR/KR Kealoha Pilares took the kickoff, found a seam, and outran the Lions return team for a 101 yard touchdown. The return for a touchdown was the Panthers first since 2003 and set a record for the longest in team history. After a season of poor special teams play, Pilares touchdown return was sweet.

9:39, Travelle Wharton(notes), G - Gamer. Panthers lead 17-7, Car ball on DET 11. On 1st-and-10 in the red zone Cam Newton ran a quarterback draw. LG Travelle Wharton sealed DT Corey Williams(notes) and forced him toward the middle of the field, opening a lane for Newton to break toward the left sideline and scamper into the end zone.

1:04, Brandon LaFell, WR - Lamer. Panthers lead 24-14, Car ball on CAR 46. As the Panthers went into a two-minute hurry-up mode, Cam Newton threw a strike down the deep middle to Brandon LaFell twenty yards down the field. LaFell let the ball slip through his hands at the Detroit 35. While the Panthers ultimately finished the drive with a field goal before the half, had LaFell made the easy catch in Lions territory Carolina may have been in position to score a touchdown instead.

3rd Quarter

9:35, Steve Smith, WR - Lamer. Panthers lead 27-21, Car ball on CAR 26. Momentum once again was shifting toward Detroit after the Lions opened the second half with a quick touchdown. Facing 3rd-and-9 from deep within their own territory, the Panthers needed to sustain a drive and keep Detroit's offense off the field. Steve Smith ran a deep out along the left sideline and Cam Newton hit him with a good pass near midfield, but Smitty dropped a relatively easy pass for a big play. The Panthers punted and three minutes later the Lions scored a go-ahead touchdown.

6:02, Sean McDermott - Def. Coord - Lamer. Panthers lead 27-21, Detroit scoring drive. Needing a stop, Sean McDermott repeatedly put the defensive secondary into a soft zone. The Lions take possession and quickly rip off plays for 9, 26, 16, and 3 yards before Matthew Stafford hit TE Tony Scheffler(notes) for a 17 yard touchdown. The Panthers defensive barely put up a fight as they regularly backed off and allowed Detroit to reel off numerous big plays.

2:48, Geoff Hangartner(notes), G - Lamer. Panthers trail 27-28, Car ball on DET 26. The Panthers face a 2nd-and-5 as they approach the red zone for the go-ahead points. Cam Newton lined up under center and ran play action with Jonathan Stewart. By the time Newton looked up after the ball fake, Lions DT Ndamukong Suh(notes) had blown past Geoff Hangartner and was in Cam's face. Newton should have just taken the sack, but instead tried forcing a pass which was intercepted and killed the Panthers potential scoring drive.

4th Quarter

8:05, Sean McDermott - Def. Coord - Lamer. Panthers trail 27-28, Detroit scoring drive. McDermott's entire defense looked exhausted. The secondary gave big cushions and again played a soft zone. There were repeated examples of poor tackling as the Lions faced little resistance during their eight-play, 69-yard touchdown drive. The Lions eight plays went for 5, 19, 12, 8, 10, 9, and 2 yards before a 4-yard touchdown run by Kevin Smith(notes). The second half game plan by McDermott and the performance of his entire squad were embarrassing.

7:28, Travelle Wharton, G - Gamer. Panthers trail 27-35, Car ball on CAR 23. Trailing by eight points, Cam Newton hit Jonathan Stewart on a short screen pass to the left. Travelle Wharton pulled to block and took out LB Justin Durant(notes) in the flat, springing Stewart for a big 26-yard gain. Five plays later the Panthers scored a touchdown and made the two-point conversion to tie the game.

5:03, Ryan Kalil(notes), C - Gamer. Panthers trail 27-35, Car ball on DET 6. Cam Newton lined up under center near the end zone. Newton simply took the snap and ran right up the backside of C Ryan Kalil who got into the second level of the Lions defense and took out LB Stephen Tulloch(notes) as Newton waltzed untouched into the end zone for the touchdown. A two-point conversion to Steve Smith on the next play tied the game.

2:06, Chris Gamble(notes), CB & Sherrod Martin, S - Lamers. Panthers trail 35-42, Det ball on CAR 19. Trailing by a touchdown, Cam Newton threw a terrible pick to give the Lions great field position as the game began drawing to a close. On 3rd-and-6 Lions RB Kevin Smith took a simple handoff off the right edge. Chris Gamble and Sherrod Martin both completely whiffed on arm tackles as Smith iced the game with an easy 19-yard touchdown run. The lame, heartless attempts by Gamble and Martin were the perfect way to end a game where the defense lacked heart for the three final quarters.

The Panthers are now 2-8 and the close losses are getting old.

Forget the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. The Panther need to draft some heart on defense.

Andrew Sweat is a North Carolina resident and loyal Panthers fan. More from this author:

Gamers & Lamers: Week 10 vs. Titans

Gamers & Lamers: Week 8 vs. Vikings

Gamers & Lamers: Week 7 vs. Redskins

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Updated Tuesday, Nov 22, 2011