NFL: Lions 49, Panthers 35
By Larry Lage
DETROIT ó Matthew Stafford shook off a couple of early interceptions, then went about leading the Detroit Lions to yet another memorable comeback.
The Lions quarterback matched a career-best with five touchdown passes, the final one a 7-yarder to Brandon Pettigrew with 2:32 left, and the Lions rallied for a 49-35 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
ěWe were killing ourselves with turnovers,î he said. ěWe knew that weíd be able to score in the second half if we could just keep our hands on the ball.î
The Lions (7-3) scored five second-half touchdowns and became the first NFL team since at least 1950 to win three games in a season after trailing by at least 17 points, according to STATS, LLC.
ěWe can get as hot as any team in the league,î Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said.
The Panthers (2-8) led by 17 points in the second quarter, and had a 27-14 lead at halftime.
ěThis is a team loss,î Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. ěYou play the second half the way we did, youíre going to get beat.î
Detroit now can look ahead to its next game, on Thanksgiving at home against undefeated Green Bay.
ěAgainst Green Bay, you canít make the mistakes we did,î Schwartz said.
Against Carolina, though, the Comeback Cats were able to overcome their early turnovers with a barrage of touchdown passes by Stafford. The Lions scored 21 straight points to take a 35-27 lead early in the fourth quarter, but couldnít put the game away until the final minutes.
Carolina tied it with 4:59 left on quarterback Cam Newtonís 6-yard run and 2-point conversion pass to Steve Smith.
Stafford then started the game-winning drive with a 30-yard completion to Calvin Johnson and capped it with his sharp pass to Pettigrew in the end zone on a third-down play.
The Lions sealed the win when Newton threw an interception on the Panthersí first play after the ensuing kickoff and the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft finished with a season-high four interceptions.
Newton was 22 of 38 for 280 yards with a TD pass and also ran for two scores.
ěIt was as if we were just trying to hold on,î Newton said. ěYou canít do that to a team like this.î
Minnesota and Dallas found that out early this season. The Lions trailed the Vikings and Cowboys by 20-plus points on the road and came back to win each game during their 5-0 start.
Stafford, selected No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft, bounced back from his rough start Sunday to finish 28 of 36 for 335 yards.
ěItís just like being a shooting guard,î Lions receiver Nate Burleson said. ěOnce he hit a couple shots, you could see it in his eyes. He was in the huddle winking at guys.î
It helped that Stafford had somebody to do something with handoffs.
Kevin Smith gave the Lions a surprising boost on the ground, running for a career-high 140 yards and scoring three touchdowns two weeks after he was sitting on a couch without a job when his former team gave him a shot.
ěThere are a lot of great stories in the NFL, but youíd be hard-pressed to come up with a better one right now than Kevin Smith,î Schwartz said.
When Detroit looked like it was trying to set up a field goal to take a 10-point lead, Smith took a handoff and ran 19 yards for a TD with two minutes left to finish a 35-point second half.
ěI knew that in this league, if you are available and you have talent, youíll get a chance,î Smith said.