Panthers backup P.J. Walker shows he's good enough to beat the Lions

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's too early to say the Carolina Panthers won’t need to select a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 draft.

But former XFL star P.J. Walker at least showed on Sunday that he’s capable of winning an NFL game -- even if was against the undermanned Detroit Lions.

Walker did a lot of good things in the 20-0 victory in relief of Teddy Bridgewater, a last-minute inactive as he recovers from a sprained right knee suffered a week ago against Tampa Bay.

Walker completed 23-of-43 pass attempts for 258 yards and a touchdown. He showed with his scrambling on a couple of plays, particularly on a 20-yard pass to DJ Moore, why coach Matt Rhule went with him over less mobile Will Grier to help the Panthers (4-7) end a five-game losing streak.

Walker also threw two bad interceptions in the red zone on which the Detroit defender looked like the intended receiver.

He also was the benefactor of a Detroit offense playing without three key pieces in addition to quarterback Matthew Stafford nursing a sore right thumb.

The Lions were so bad offensively that they punted four times in the first half against a Carolina team that forced only two punts in the last four games combined.

The result was Carolina’s first shutout since Dec. 13, 2015, against the Atlanta Falcons, against a Detroit team that hadn’t been shut out since 2009.

Regardless, as Walker showed in leading the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks to a 5-0 record before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season, and at Temple where he helped Rhule rebuild that program, he’s a winner.

He might not be ready to face the best teams in the NFL, but at least for a day he was ready to beat the Lions (4-6).

That could ease the pressure to use a high pick to draft a quarterback to develop behind Bridgewater, who is expected to return next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Caffeine required: Maybe it was the ineptness of Detroit. Maybe it was a mostly empty stadium. But the only real energy in this one came before the game as Rhule, team owner David Tepper and general manager Marty Hurney debated whether to play Bridgewater.

Buy on a breakout performance: Moore has struggled to develop a consistent chemistry with Bridgewater, but Walker certainly liked going to him. Moore had seven catches for a season-high 127 yards. Or maybe it’s just the Lions. Moore had a career-high 157 yards receiving against Detroit in 2018.

Troubling trend: Mike Davis has struggled to produce in the running game for the fifth straight start. It’s troubling because Sunday he had only 64 yards on 19 carries against a Detroit defense giving up 141 yards rushing per game.

Silver lining: The Panthers could get Bridgewater and running back Christian McCaffrey (shoulder) back for next Sunday's game against Minnesota. That would be a huge boost for the offense in Bridgewater’s first return to Minnesota as the starter since he suffered a horrific left knee injury in 2016 in training camp for the Vikings.