The Carolina Panthers ran for 264 yards and three touchdowns against the Detroit Lions Sunday on their way to a closer-than-expected 31-22 win.
Starter DeAngelo Williams accumulated 120 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 8.57 yards per carry. "Backup" Jonathan Stewart carried 15 times for 130 yards and a 22-yard touchdown run. Receiver Steve Smith even took a reverse for 16 yards.
Carolina QB Jake Delhomme played better than he did in Week 10 against the Raiders, completing 10-of-19 passes for 98 yards and a 15-yard touchdown to TE Jeff King. He still wasn't great, but he didn't need to be; the running game was that good.
Steve Smith led Panthers' receivers with six catches for 59 yards. The aforementioned King caught the team's only touchdown pass. None of the receivers had particularly good games because, again, the ground attack was so good.
The Panthers set a new franchise record for most team rushing yards in a single game, and it was the first time that Carolina had two RBs run for 100-plus yards.
The offensive line didn't allow any sacks, and the only turnover of the day for the offense was a Steve Smith fumble. Cornerback Leigh Bodden, who was defending Smith on a short pass, wrapped his arm around Smith's back and punched the ball out as Smith started to accelerate.
The only offensive penalty was a holding infraction called against receiver D.J. Hackett on an outside run.
Starting center Ryan Kalil was the only offensive player who sat out the game with an injury. Kalil has seen very limited playing time since Week Five, because of a nagging ankle ailment.
All in all, the offense gained 362 yards, a decent day against one of the worst defenses in the league.
The defense was the weak link for once. The usually stout rush defense allowed Kevin Smith, who is the most underrated rookie running back in the NFL, to run for 112 yards on 24 carries.
Detroit QB Daunte Culpepper scrambled for 13 yards and a score. In the passing game, Culpepper connected on 20-of-35 passes for 207 yards and a 35-yard touchdown to receiver Calvin Johnson, as well as two interceptions, the second of which went a long way towards sealing the game for Carolina.
Johnson led the Lions in receiving with six receptions amassing 65 yards. Smith was also involved in the passing game, reeling in two throws for 23 yards.
Detroit's offensive line gave up three sacks, two of them to Julius Peppers, who also whacked the ball out of Culpepper's hands late in the fourth quarter to officially seal the game for the Panthers. But it also opened up a lot of nice holes for Smith to run through, and he took advantage.
The Lions registered 316 yards, a poor performance for a defense that was supposed to be one of the best in the league.
The Lions didn't commit any offensive penalties.
Two of Detroit's offensive starters didn't play—receiver Mike Furrey and center Dominic Raiola.
Placekicker Jason Hanson was the Lions' top scorer with 10 points.
Linebacker Thomas Davis and cornerback Chris Gamble led the Panthers' defense in tackles with 11, 10 solo, and 10, nine solo, respectively.
Linebacker Na'il Diggs and free safety Charles Godfrey each had an interception. Godfrey's was the first of his career, and he could have returned it for a touchdown, but Culpepper tripped him up at inside the Detroit five.
The Panthers forced a total of four turnovers and held the Lions to two touchdowns.
Carolina's defense got whistled for six penalties covering 45 yards.
The Panthers didn't play particularly poorly. The run offense was spectacular, as was the offensive line, and Delhomme did what was necessary for the win. The Lions just played really well, with their veteran, experienced quarterback and stud running back, especially for a team that entered the game 0-9.
They had nothing to lose. And sometimes the team with nothing to lose is the most dangerous team.