CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Calvin Johnson stood at his locker Sunday afternoon and lamented the obvious, something he experienced far too often last season.
Turnovers once again destroyed the Detroit Lions on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers in the 24-7 loss. Detroit couldn’t force any turnovers, while giving up the ball three times. Combined that with two missed field goals from Nate Freese, and it was enough to turn a close game into a blowout.
The three turnovers came at critical times Sunday. A fumble from Joique Bell ended a Detroit drive just outside of the Carolina red zone during the first quarter. A Matthew Stafford interception gave the Lions a one-play drive in the fourth quarter and the next drive never got started as Jeremy Ross fumbled the kick return.
Here’s a look at what happened on each turnover.
The Bell fumble
Bell had just run the ball up the middle for three yards on first down to give Detroit a manageable 2nd-and-7 from the Carolina 27-yard line. Lined up in an I-formation with Jed Collins in front of him, Bell took the handoff from Stafford and headed toward the right.
The right side of the line blocked well, although Collins slowed up a little bit and Bell made contact with him, but not enough to really take him off stride in front of a falling Dominic Raiola. This allowed Carolina cornerback Antoine Cason to approach Bell from the right side, although a little bit late.
Bell looked like he was past Cason, but Cason grabbed the ball and started to rip at it. One rip along with a little punch and the ball popped out. Cason then finished the play on his own, recovering the fumble. There wasn’t much Bell could do on the play. It was a perfect punch-out by Cason.
“You let your team down. I let my city down,” Bell said. “Coming from a place I have a lot of pride for. I know a lot of people who were pulling for me and I feel like I let those people down. I had to get back in there and I wanted to do something to bring a light back to the team.”
Bell finished with 36 yards rushing and 61 yards receiving.
The Stafford interception
Detroit trailed 13-7 with 12:32 left in the fourth quarter when the offense took over on the Lions’ 48-yard line. Stafford once again lined up in I-formation, with Johnson on the bottom, Golden Tate on the top and Brandon Pettigrew moving in motion on the line.
Stafford used playaction to Bell, got through the motion and almost immediately looked to launch the ball to Johnson. Stafford threw into double coverage and Carolina safety Thomas DeCoud tipped what appeared to be an underthrown ball that Johnson never had a shot at. It appeared Stafford locked on throwing to Johnson almost immediately.
“You have to give him a chance,” Stafford said. “I just wish I would have thrown it out there a little bit more, throw a better ball.
"... Just a poor physical throw, I guess.”
It went right into Melvin White on a perfect tip-drill play and White’s return to the Carolina 30-yard line set up a nine-play, 67-yard drive that ended in a Panthers touchdown, changing the game.
“Cason and DeCoud made the play because they were tight coverage on him and they tipped it up,” White said. “I just came and secured the ball and finished up.”
The Ross Fumble
Down 21-7 following the Stafford interception and a Carolina touchdown drive, Ross caught the ball five yards into the end zone and chose to take it out along the right hash mark. Ross accelerated and had some speed heading into the blocking when he tried to switch direction and cut upfield.
As he did, Chase Blackburn tried to wrap Ross up, eventually grabbing his ankle. As Blackburn slowed Ross down, linebacker Ben Jacobs dove and his hand made contact with the ball right after Blackburn hit the ball.
“Just in traffic, changing directions, started to reaccelerate,” Ross said. “Guy just got his arm in there, got a good grip on the ball and started ripping on it.
“Tried to come over with my left hand to secure it but he had a good grip on it and kind of ripped it out of there as I was in the process of changing direction.”
Three turnovers helped flip a close game into a Carolina blowout, at least in terms of score. It is something the Lions need to fix as soon as possible.
“Fall behind like that,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to win games when you’re 0-3 on the turnover battle.”