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Installment #6: Victory Week 11

Yes! That is me mentally screaming because Week 11 was a great one. I can finally say that my Carolina Panthers were able to inhale the fresh air of victory after five straight losses. Not only did they win, they routed the Detroit Lions 20-0 this past Sunday afternoon with back-up quarterback P.J. Walker standing in for the injured Teddy Bridgewater. The Panthers getting that W gave me an ecstatic Victory Monday to celebrate and it made this entire week of Thanksgiving feel like a victory week. Just one of the many things that I am thankful for after so many consecutive defeats.

I have definitely been experiencing the growing pains of my favorite football team in the latter weeks of this season. Their pain and mine. I painfully listened as the radio commentators described close losses to the Chicago Bears, the NFC South division-leading New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football, and the defending 2019 Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9. In Week 10, well we all sat in excruciating agony as Carolina's young defense probably played its worst game of the year. They allowed over 550 yards of total offense as they were torched by Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 46-23. Apparently, veterans like safety Tre Boston and linebacker Shaq Thompson gave gut-check speeches and led some hard team conversations and meetings. These discussions were designed to hold guys accountable but also to challenge and encourage men to play better.

When both teams took the field, it seemed as though things were going from bad to worse. Injuries reared their ugly appearance on both sides. In addition to Teddy Bridgewater being scratched less than two hours before kickoff, the Panthers would have to play without four other starters. Running back Christian McCaffrey missed his second straight game due to a shoulder injury. Cornerback Donte Jackson continues to be bothered by a lingering toe ailment and offensive linemen Russel Okung and John Miller sat out because of injuries. For the Lions, quarterback Matthew Stafford did play despite dealing with a thumb injury. But the team had to go without running back De'Andre Swift and wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola. Who would step up and make the big plays in big moments?

P.J. Walker and the Panthers offense possessed the ball first. They were able to drive the ball to midfield, but defensive tackle Nick Williams batted down a pass on third-down and the Panthers were forced to punt. So it was up to the defense to set the tone.

And set the tone they did, allowing the Lions only one first-down and forcing a key second-down drop by running back Adrian Peterson. After Detroit punted on their first drive, P.J. Walker and the Panthers went back to work. The ex-XFL quarterback found DJ Moore for a huge 52-yard connection. A few plays later, Mike Davis scored on a two-yard burst. It was 7-0 Panthers.

It felt like the score held at 7-0 forever. Neither team scored in the second quarter. But the Panther defense continued to be impactful. They recovered a fumble on a bad snap by Lions center Frank Ragnow. The turnover was annulled when Walker threw an interception right to cornerback Amani Oruwariye in the end zone. A Stafford pass was broken up by Panthers defensive end Brian Burns and the Lions forced a three-and-out. Both teams basically traded punts until halftime.

The Lions came out in the third quarter throwing, but after a third-and-five Stafford pass intended for Marvin Jones, Jr. fell incomplete, Detroit was forced to punt away another three-and-out possession. The Panthers extended their tenuous lead on the next drive. Walker first found DJ Moore on a 20-yard pass play. A couple of plays later, he connected with Curtis Samuel, who burned cornerback Desmond Trufant for a 17-yard touchdown. The score was 14-0 Panthers.

The Panthers would add two Joey Slye field goals in the second half. One of them was a 56-yarder late in the third quarter which made the score 17-0 Panthers. The Detroit Lions had some chances, but they never scored in the game. Matthew Stafford was held to 18-of-31 for just 178 passing yards.

Brian Burns had two sacks on five tackles, four quarterback hits, and a pass deflection. These statistics earned Burns NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for Week 11. Defensive end Efe Obada had 1.5 sacks, bringing his total for the year to a career-best 3.5 sacks.

The Panthers defense sacked Stafford five times and had eleven quarterback hits. They forced six punts and held the Lions to just 3-of-14 on third-downs in the shutout. For a defense that was absolutely humiliated a week ago, this victory was especially big and was something special to witness. It was Carolina's first shutout win since a 38-0 drubbing of the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14 of the 2015 season.

Another thing that I was glad to see is the offense did not falter in Bridgewater and McCaffrey's absences. It was P.J. Walker's first NFL start and although he had two end zone picks, he also went 24-of-34 for 258 passing yards and a touchdown. Walker completed 70.5 percent of his passes. Not bad for his first complete NFL contest.

Walker and offensive coordinator Joe Brady did a great job of spreading the ball around to different weapons. DJ Moore hauled in seven catches for 127 yards and he rushed for another 21 yards. It was Moore's seventh career 100-yard receiving game. Curtis Samuel had eight receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown. Samuel ran for four yards. Mike Davis, who continues to impress, rushed for 64 yards and a TD. And he had fifteen yards receiving. Davis is averaging 80.2 yards in eight appearances this season.

So it was a great, all-around team win and for now, we Panthers fans can breathe a sigh of relief. The five-game skid is no more and their record improved to 4-7 after eleven games. I for one am excited about the continued growth of this team and they will get another chance for another win when they travel to Minnesota with a 1:00 Sunday afternoon matchup with the Vikings.

As for the Lions, they fall to 4-6 with the loss and appear to be falling out of the playoff conversation in the National Football Conference. Their coach Matt Patricia is also on the hot seat because he has not posted a winning season since arriving in Motown three seasons ago. They have a quick turnaround as they host the Houston Texans in the 12:00 PM game today. On to Week 12 we keep this football season rolling. I am really enjoying it.

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