In a tie game in the final minute of the first half, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton stood in the pocket, waited a receiver to get open, rolled to his left before finally firing a seed to Devin Funchess in the back of the end zone.
The 10-yard touchdown gave the Panthers a 17-10 lead over Detroit they never relinquished and looked like a well-executed play in which Newton went through all his reads before finding an open Funchess.
Except there were no reads: Newton butchered the play call in the huddle.
“I didn’t call the wrong play, it just came out wrong,” Newton said. “(Funchess) is from Detroit and it just worked out perfect for us.”
The Panthers weren’t perfect in the 27-24 victory (even if, actually, Newton was for most of the game).
The defense wilted in the fourth quarter again. The offensive play-calling got a little conservative with a two-touchdown lead and rookie kick returner Curtis Samuel made the unusual move of kneeling with the ball – while in the field of play.
But when broken plays start going for touchdowns and the backup tight end bulls his way into the record books and the defense survives furious rallies by two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, it all begins to feel the makings of a special season.
“This is why I showed up,” said veteran safety Mike Adams, who signed with the Panthers during the offseason. “And I’m planning on being a part of something big, so I’m excited.”
A peppier mood
There was an understated calm in the locker room in New England after the Panthers (4-1) took down Tom Brady and the Patriots.
But the mood was a little peppier Sunday.
Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey was describing his first career touchdown, on a 6-yard shovel pass, while about 12 feet away tight end Ed Dickson did wave after wave of interviews.
Dickson has mostly been the blocking half of the tight end tandem with Greg Olsen since arriving from Baltimore four years ago.
But with Olsen out with a broken foot and the Lions (3-2) selling out to stop the run, Olsen found wide expanses of artificial turf to gallop through. Dickson had catch-and-runs of 64 and 57 yards in the first half, and might have scored on the first one if he hadn’t lost a cleat.
Dickson finished with five catches for 175 yards, the 10th-best receiving day in team history and the second-best by a Panthers tight end behind Olsen’s 181-yard effort vs. Tampa Bay last year.
Back in Charlotte, Olsen jabbed Dickson on Twitter by calling it a “decent game,” which brought a big laugh from Dickson when he heard about it.
“I’m going to call him as I get to my phone,” Dickson said.
The two can talk about what the offense might look like come Thanksgiving, the earliest that Olsen is eligible to return from injured reserve.
But on the fast surface inside Ford Field, Dickson had a day in the dome, surpassing his season totals from his first three years with the Panthers.
“I realize what type of player Greg Olsen is and I’ve never tried to take that away from the team. I just want the opportunity to prove what I have and I think they’re starting to look at what I can do,” Dickson said. “Look out for us. When we get 88 (Olsen’s number) back and I’m ready to go ... having a few tight ends that’s good like this is good.”
A big lead, and then ...
The Panthers built a 27-10 lead against Detroit, then held on for dear life and Matthew Stafford started zinging the ball around, just as Brady had done a week earlier.
A couple of defensive players said the problem was poor tackling, including some rare misses by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.
While conceding that Brady and Stafford “are so good they can cut you up fast,” Kuechly said he needs to be better.
“I think if I make a couple more tackles it’s not the same situation,” he said.
But if Kuechly’s tackling prowess is your biggest concern, then how bad can things really be?
Nickel back Captain Munnerlyn said the defense has to do a better job finishing.
“We were dominating. They kind of speeded up a little bit and we just missed tackles,” Munnerlyn said. “There were a bunch of plays we could have made. We were right there. ... We’ve got to clean that up.”
The Panthers opened up a half-game lead in the NFC South over the Falcons, who had a bye Sunday. After dispatching Detroit, Carolina faces another division leader Thursday when the Eagles (4-1) land in Charlotte.
With no unbeaten teams in the NFC, critics are still trying to figure out who the best teams are. But since their stinker against the Saints two weeks ago, it’s looking more and more like the Panthers belong in the conversation.
“We played well the first five games,” Kuechly said. “(But) it’s five games, and if we don’t play well from here on out none of it matters.”