Rookie Cam Newton will provide a stiff challenge with his arm and legs for the Lions on Sunday.
Associated Press Enlarge
DETROIT -- From 5-0 to almost desperate.
The Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers both need to bounce back from their most lopsided losses of the season on Sunday at Ford Field. Detroit needs it a little more.
The Lions (6-3) have lost three of four games, including two straight at home, making their margin for error smaller to make a long-awaited return to the playoffs.
"We have to find a way to win this game because it's huge for us," said Detroit center Dominic Raiola, who will make his 150th career start. "But I don't want to start talking about playoffs yet."
Lions coach Jim Schwartz doesn't either.
"You want to cue Jim Mora?" Schwartz asked.
"We got the Carolina Panthers this week," Schwartz said. "Anything that comes after Carolina is not even on our radar right now."
When the Lions started 5-0, they looked like a lock to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Now, they're in danger of falling back to the pack in the NFC's wild-card race and possibly being regarded as a team that flopped after a strong and surprising start.
"We've had highs and lows just past halfway through the season, and we haven't batted an eye either way," Detroit receiver Nate Burleson said. "We've had big-time wins, exorcised some demons, and got smacked in the mouth in Chicago.
"There are way too many things that can happen before the playoffs. We just need to try to stack up as many wins as we can so that we don't get caught up in the numbers game and thinking about who needs to win and lose to get in."
Carolina (2-7) is simply hoping to close the season with more tangible signs of improvement and to avoid sealing a third straight .500-or-worse record despite having 12 players, including six starters, on injured reserve.
The Panthers have gotten better, already winning as many games as last year and losing five times by seven or fewer points, but moral victories didn't exist in any way after a 30-3 setback at home to Tennessee.
How close did first-year coach Ron Rivera think his team was to turning it around?
"Well, until last Sunday I thought we were pretty close," Rivera acknowledged.
Carolina, which lost by just a touchdown against Green Bay and by three points to New Orleans, seemed to be ready to get out of the conference basement with a 13-point win over Washington and a narrow loss to Minnesota.
"They took Green Bay to the wire, they took New Orleans to the wire," Schwartz said. "You don't need to look very far past those games if you want to see their explosiveness, particularly on offense."
But after the Panthers' bye week, they fell behind early to the Titans and couldn't recover.
The Lions had a similar experience. They routed Denver 48-3 on the road, had a week off and then got handed a 37-13 humbling defeat at Chicago.
Like Carolina last weekend, Detroit dug a hole it couldn't get out of and ended up getting routed.
Matthew Stafford threw a season-high four interceptions -- after throwing four in his first eight games -- with a fractured right index finger, supported by a splint and covered with a glove.
"We had a chance to put [the Bears] in the rear view and didn't do it," Stafford said. "But there is a lot of football left in this season. We got to learn from this tape and move on."
Cam Newton, meanwhile, is taking his latest loss hard.
The rookie quarterback is coming off his first game without a touchdown and his second-lowest rating, a blip on what has been a sensational season for him -- at least statistically. He has thrown for at least 290 yards in four games, all losses, to match Peyton Manning's rookie record set in 1998, and has ran for seven scores, equaling Vince Young's 2006 total for the most by a rookie since 1970.
Newton, though, is still stewing about the setback at home to the Titans.
"It's not supposed to be water off a duck's back," he said. "My mom used to say, 'If you are hungry, you're going to eat.' I want to win. And If I don't win, I'm going to pitch a fit."
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