The Carolina Panthers edged the Detroit Lions Sunday, 27-24, recording their second straight road win over a quality opponent. A lot of things went right for the Panthers (4-1), who at one point trailed 10-3 before zooming to 24 consecutive points against Detroit (3-2) before the Lions made it interesting late with two straight scores.
It gets no easier from here, as Carolina plays a 4-1 Philadelphia team Thursday night that is also leading its division.
Here are eight of the players who shone brightly for Carolina on a day where – except for a whole lot of early penalties, a below-average running game and some questionable defense late – the Panthers played well and looked every inch the playoff contender.
▪ Cam Newton. The Panthers quarterback again played at his 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player level, spreading the ball around beautifully and making one completion after another into very tight windows. Newton ended up 26-for-33 passing for 355 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. He was the best player on the field.
▪ Thomas Davis. The Panthers veteran linebacker fought his way to Carolina’s first defensive turnover in a month when he outwrestled a Lion for a Matthew Stafford fumble. Davis said he had to ‘scratch and claw” for the ball “by any means necessary,” especially because he believed that Captain Munnerlyn had been wrongly robbed of a fumble recovery earlier against Stafford .
▪ Ed Dickson. The tight end, who is subbing in for the injured Greg Olsen, looked like a Pro Bowler himself on Sunday. Dickson had catches of 64 and 57 yards on his way to a career day. Dickson’s previous high for reception yardage in a game was 79 – he more than doubled that with 175 yards this time. “I was speechless,” Dickson said.
▪ Kawann Short. Carolina’s defensive tackle wreaked havoc on several critical plays, including the fumble he forced from Stafford on a sack that led to Davis’s recovery.
▪ Devin Funchess. The wide receiver, a Michigan native, celebrated his homecoming with his third touchdown in the past two games. This one was once again in traffic, as Funchess went up over two defensive backs to haul it down. He also had a couple of key third-down catches. Funchess made sure to repeatedly thank the offensive line after the game, saying he and Newton had “easy” jobs because of the protection Newton was offered on most pass plays.
▪ Kelvin Benjamin. Newton’s third-quarter throw to the left corner of the end zone was a thing of beauty, but Benjamin did his part by hauling in a difficult catch on the run for a 31-yard TD. Benjamin also made the game-sealing 17-yard catch on third-and-9 just before the two-minute warning. Benjamin declined to talk to the media following the game.
▪ Christian McCaffrey. The rookie scored his first career TD on a nifty shovel pass from Newton, going in standing up from six yards out. “It was really cool that I got the ball and the gate kind of opened up, so the offensive line did a great job and kind of just came together,” McCaffrey said.
▪ Julius Peppers. Not only did Carolina’s 37-year-old sack leader for 2017 get another one Sunday, but he also dropped a Lions running back for a four-yard loss on a fourth-and-1.