CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Coming into Saturday, offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said he needed to find better angles for Panthers runners after Carolina rushed for a season-low 21 yards last week versus Pittsburgh. On a cold Christmas Eve afternoon, McAdoo delivered like Santa Claus by gifting Panthers runners massive running lanes against the Detroit Lions at Bank of America Stadium.
Carolina rewrote its franchise history books on Saturday, beating the Lions, 37-23. Running backs Chuba Hubbard (12 carries, 125 yards) and D’Onta Foreman (21 carries, 165 yards) both set career highs on the ground. The duo combined for nearly 300 yards, 240 of which came in the first half.
The Panthers’ 571 yards versus the Lions is the highest total in franchise history. The team also set a single-game franchise record for rushing yards with 321. Carolina’s 30 first downs tied for third-most in team history.
The victory keeps the Panthers’ (6-9) playoff hopes very much alive. Tampa Bay leads the NFC South by one game. The Buccaneers play the Cardinals on Sunday night before hosting Carolina next week. Win or lose, the division is essentially on the line at Tampa Bay in Week 17. The Panthers currently hold the tiebreaker thanks to a victory against Tampa Bay in Week 7.
McAdoo schemed massive holes for the Panthers’ running backs via duo runs where center Bradly Bozeman and guard Austin Corbett combo-blocked the Lions’ defensive tackles and middle linebacker. By executing their assignments, Hubbard and Foreman routinely reached the second level of the Lions’ defense and made safeties miss open-field tackles.
McAdoo also involved quarterback Sam Darnold as a runner. He was effective on zone-read runs, finishing with 20 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. As a thrower, Darnold efficiently took what the Lions’ defense gave him. He threw for a season-high 250 yards and completed 15 passes on 22 attempts.
In the third quarter, Darnold put the Lions away on back-to-back throws. The first went 47 yards down the seam to receiver D.J. Moore. The catch set up Carolina on the Lions’ 5-yard line. On the next play, Moore caught a quick bubble screen and scored. The touchdown was Darnold’s second of the game and put Carolina up 18 points early in the third quarter.
Moore did not record a first-half catch as the Panthers dominated on the ground during the opening two quarters. But Moore came alive in the second half. Two drives after his touchdown, he caught a sideline, toe-topping target on a critical third-and-10. The conversion gained 15 yards and set up a 40-yard Eddy Piñeiro field goal which pushed the Panthers lead to 21.
Moore finished with five grabs for 83 yards and a score.
Defensively, the Panthers contained the Lions’ explosive passing offense. Defensive end Brian Burns sacked Detroit quarterback Jared Goff on the first drive of the second half. He swallowed Goff up again on the next drive and finished with two total sacks, putting his season total at 12.5. Safety Jeremy Chinn, cornerback Jaycee Horn and linebacker Shaq Thompson led the team with six tackles each.
The Panthers’ defense supplemented a complete offensive game for Carolina.
Needing to reestablish the run, the Panthers opened the game with a pair of explosive Hubbard carries. .
Hubbard took the game’s first carry 30 yards by cruising up the left sideline toward midfield. Two plays later he gashed the Lions up the middle for 35 yards. Rookie running back Raheem Blackshear capped the series with a 7-yard rush via a speed option pitch from Darnold.
By gashing the Lions interior, Bozeman, Corbett and guard Brady Christensen had their best games as Panthers.
The Panthers forced Detroit’s pass-happy offense to play one-dimensional. Linebacker Frankie Luvu finished with five tackles. He made a jackknifing tackle for a loss late in the first quarter that set Detriot back six yards. The Lions converted a critical fourth down on the series but Goff fumbled a snap three plays later on the Panthers’ 9-yard line. Defensive lineman Yetur Gross-Matos fell on the unforced error, scooping his fourth fumble recovery of the season.
Carolina converted the timely turnover into seven points. Darnold led an eight-play, 91-yard drive that end with a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Darnold. After a quick Lions punt, the Panthers got the ball back and pieced together another 90-plus-yard scoring drive. The drive took 11 plays and featured eight running plays.
By reestablishing the run, Carolina controlled time of possession and cruised to victory. The Panthers’ punishing style fit the reported kickoff temperature of 20 degrees, which set a record for the coldest home game in franchise history.