The Detroit Lions have lived up to their billing during the first month of the season.
Favored to win the NFC North, they emerged from September with sole possession of first place after a road victory against Green Bay last Thursday. They now have a chance to pad their lead with a cushy home game against the winless Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The Lions (3-1) relied on a punishing rushing attack and fearsome defensive effort to defeat the Packers 34-20. David Montgomery rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, while the defense sacked Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love five times and forced two turnovers.
Perhaps the only negative is quarterback Jared Goff throwing an interception in each of the past three games. That followed a stretch of 383 attempts without one, the third-longest streak in NFL history.
Detroit coach Dan Campbell isn’t particularly concerned about it.
“He doesn’t want it to happen, but what I want more than anything is I don’t want him to go into a shell or start panicking,” Campbell said. “And he’s not, and I love that. It’s something that he’s thinking about — and we’ll be on top of — the ability to overcome those, because some of those will happen.”
Goff doesn’t want it to become an every-game issue.
“You just got to be smart with it,” he said. “I’ve had three, two of them were bad throws, one was a bad decision. Try to limit the decision ones. Those are the ones that really sting. But yeah, I just got to take care of the ball better and really limit that. It’s something I’m focused on.”
Goff has plenty of playmakers at his disposal, most notably wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown (26 receptions, 331 yards, two touchdowns) and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta (22 receptions, 242 yards, one TD).
He’ll now have a speed burner at his disposal with the return of second-year wideout Jameson Williams. Originally suspended six games by the league for violating gambling rules, Williams got his sentence shaved to four games. That makes him eligible to play this weekend and he is listed as questionable.
His return would come at a good time as St. Brown (abdomen) is listed as doubtful.
The Panthers (0-4) are coming off a 21-13 loss to Minnesota. No. 1 draft pick Bryce Young has averaged just 167.7 passing yards in the three games he’s played, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Carolina coach Frank Reich expected the growing pains.
“I just think this is all normal,” he said. “It’s terrible that we’re 0-4, it’s terrible we haven’t had more success on offense — for him to feel that a little bit — but I really believe and know that’s coming.”
Former Vikings receiver Adam Thielen (27 receptions, 287 yards, two touchdowns) has been the main target. Carolina hasn’t gotten much out of its rushing attack (95.3 yards per game) to take pressure off Young. Opponents are averaging 136.3 rushing yards and have scored a total of six touchdowns on the ground.
“We want to get our run game going,” Reich said. “We want to have a more balanced attack. You don’t want to beat your head up against a wall, so it’s always going to be a balance.”
Panthers safety Xavier Woods (hamstring) will sit out the game. Guard Austin Corbett (knee) and tight end Stephen Sullivan (hip) also were ruled out, while cornerback Donte Jackson (shoulder) is questionable.
Detroit safety Brian Branch (ankle) and fullback Jason Cabinda (knee) are out and tight end James Mitchell (hamstring) is doubtful. Tackle Taylor Decker (ankle), running back Jahmyr Gibbs (hamstring) and Reynolds (groin) are among those listed as questionable.
Detroit will be seeking some revenge. The Panthers essentially knocked the Lions out of the playoffs last December with a 37-23 victory.