What it means: Remember when the Panthers were scoring moral victories every week early in the season? Well, they’re back at it. But this one had the potential to be so much more. This was a chance for a young team and first-year head coach Ron Rivera to turn a big corner. A victory in Ford Field would have sent a firm message to the rest of the league that the Panthers will be a force to be reckoned with next season and a potential spoiler the rest of this season. The Panthers went toe-to-toe with the Lions much of the day. But they couldn’t quite turn the corner. On the bright side, there were plenty of promising things that emerged, and the Panthers seem to be putting themselves in nice position for next year’s draft.
What I liked: Carolina’s offense. Yeah, Cam Newton was intercepted four times, but he had some great moments. The whole offense did. Even though they’re losing, the Panthers are so much more exciting on offense than they ever were under former head coach John Fox.
What I didn’t like: Carolina’s defense. It’s been a problem all year, and it’s not getting any better. You can’t allow Matthew Stafford to throw for five touchdowns, and you can’t allow 49 points. No matter how good your offense is, it’s pretty tough to match 49 points. Wherever the Panthers end up in the draft order, they'd better use their first pick on a defensive player. They'd better use just about all their picks on defensive players.
Sign of progress: The Panthers have made it clear they’re going to look at their young players a lot down the stretch. One guy who stood out Sunday was rookie return man Kealoha Pilares. He took a kickoff back for a touchdown.
What’s next: The Panthers play at Indianapolis next Sunday.