Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t perfect against Detroit.
But he was close to it.
Newton threw for 300 yards for the second week in a row and added three touchdown passes to lead Carolina to a 27-24 victory Sunday in a matchup of division leaders at Ford Field.
Newton was 26 for 33 for 355 yards and a passer rating of 141.8. Newton’s passer rating was a perfect 158.3 after he lasered a 31-yard touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin early in the third quarter.
And he still almost couldn’t overcome the Lions. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to tight end Darren Fells.
The second, with 3:32 to play, pulled Detroit within three.
But Newton’s clutch, 17-yard completion to Kelvin Benjamin on third and 9 allowed Carolina to run out the clock.
The Panthers (4-1) won their third road game in a row, and return home to face another division leader in Philadelphia (4-1) in a Thursday night game.
Newton picked apart a Detroit secondary that had played well early in the season. The Lions fell to 3-2.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said there is a simple explanation for Newton’s performance in the past two games
“He’s getting healthier,” Rivera said. “He really hadn’t had a training camp. Those first few weeks really were his training camp. We’re getting timing down between him and his receivers.”
Rookie back Christian McCaffrey notched his first career TD on a 6-yard shovel pass, and Detroit-area native Devin Funchess scored vs. his hometown team when Newton rocketed a 10-yard pass to him in the back of the end zone.
With a big lead, the Panthers’ defense started teeing off on Stafford in the second half. Defensive tackle Kawann Short forced a fumble with a sack, while veteran edge rusher Julius Peppers recorded his 149th career sack.
Three who mattered
Cam Newton: Remember the concerns about Newton’s arm strength the first three weeks of the season. Yeah, well Newton has silenced critics with his first back-to-back 300-yard passing games since the first two games of his career (both of which were 400-yard efforts).
Ed Dickson: The Lions had no answer for the Panthers’ tight end, whose 175 receiving yards were the 10th most in team history (and more than Dickson had in any of his three previous seasons in Carolina). Dickson turned in the longest (64 yards) and third-longest (57) catches of his career.
Kawann Short: The Pro Bowl defensive tackle ended a turnover drought for the Panthers with his strip-sack of Matthew Stafford in the third quarter. When Thomas Davis recovered, it marked the Panthers’ first takeaway since Week 1.
▪ Graham Gano made his first two field goals two improve to 12-for-12 on the season. He finally missed in the second half when his 55-yarder, which had the distance, sailed wide right.
▪ The Panthers entered the game as the league’s least-penalized team with 13 flags, but had seven penalties (for 78 yards) in the first half alone. Daryl Worley was flagged twice for pass interference before halftime.
▪ Former UNC tight end Eric Ebron has been plagued by drops throughout his NFL career. The problems persisted when Ebron dropped a pass in the end zone on the Lions’ first possession. Ebron was booed in the second half after another drop.