Already without running back Christian McCaffrey, the Carolina Panthers took the field against the Detroit Lions on Sunday without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
It turned out the makeshift offense didn’t need much, with the Panthers defense turned in its first shutout in nearly five years to beat the Lions 20-0.
It was just the second time this season the NFL has seen a shutout and the Panthers’ first since the Super Bowl-bound Cats beat Atlanta, 38-0, in Charlotte on Dec. 13, 2015. It was the first time the Lions have been whitewashed since 2009 — quarterback Matt Stafford’s rookie season.
1. Teddy Bridgewater left last week’s game late with an injury. Initial reports had him available for Sunday’s game, but when Carolina’s inactive list came out two hours before kickoff, Bridgewater was on it. That gave former XFL veteran P.J. Walker his first career NFL start. Overall, he turned in a solid performance, completing 24 of 34 passes for 258 yards and one touchdown. His 52-yard completion to D.J. Moore also set up another score. On the other side of the ledger, Walker threw two interceptions in the end zone.
“We took him out before the game, and he looked really good,” coach Matt Rhule said of Bridgewater. “Everybody agreed he could play, but in my gut, I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do. He wanted to play like the true competitor he is, but like the true team player he is, he respected my decision.”
2. Last week, the Panthers’ defense struggled on third downs. Those problems were fixed this week, with Carolina holding the Lions to 3-of-14 on third down. “The defense did a fantastic job not allowing big plays and getting off the field on third down,” Rhule said.
The Panthers have also struggled all season coming out of halftime, but they had a 10-0 advantage in the third quarter on Sunday. “We went into halftime last week tied at 17 and came back out and stunk up the field,” defensive end Brian Burns said.
3. The Panthers found their pass rush on Sunday. Entering the game, Carolina had just 11 sacks on the season, second fewest in the NFL. The Panthers sacked Stafford five times, including two by Burns.
“They messed up their protection a lot,” he said. “Because I usually don’t get freebies.”
Number to Know
387 — Steve Smith’s Carolina Panthers career record for rushing yards by a wide receiver, which was broken by Curtis Samuel on Sunday. Samuel entered the game one yard shy but passed Smith on a 4-yard carry. Samuel set the record in his fourth year and 48th game. It took Smith 13 years and 182 games.
They Said It
“I told P.J. (Walker) and Will (Grier) to be ready to play. That’s the life of a backup quarterback. There is no time for disappointment when you’re a backup quarterback.”
— Panthers coach Matt Rhule on monitoring Bridgewater’s injury during game week
Player of the Game
D.J. Moore, Panthers wide receiver — He didn’t score, but Moore’s 52-yard reception gave Walker a big play early in his first game as a starting quarterback, as well as setting up a touchdown. Moore finished with seven catches for 127 yards and added 21 rushing yards. He also threw a pass, intended for Walker, but it was incomplete.
“D.J. has been a deep ball threat the last couple weeks,” Rhule said.
When you’re 3-7 (entering the game) and on a five-game losing streak, the opportunities to celebrate are rare, but the Panthers need to do some work on their touchdown celebrations.
When Samuel caught a 17-yard pass for Walker’s first NFL touchdown, he sat in the corner of the end zone, made some frantic movements and fell over on his side. He explained after the game that it was supposed to be him playing Call of Duty and getting killed. He also said he’s been working on it for several weeks.