ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions needed one more possession for a chance at another come-from-behind victory.
The clock — and the Carolina Panthers — wouldn’t allow it.
Detroit scored two touchdowns 2:26 apart in the fourth quarter Sunday, but after that, the Panthers were able to run out the clock on a 27-24 win . The Lions trailed 27-10 after three, and that was ultimately too large a deficit.
“When you play with fire, you get burned every now and again,” defensive back Don Carey said. “Those type of games are exciting, and we always feel like going into that fourth quarter, if it’s close it’s ours. It just didn’t come up for us this week.”
Detroit was behind in the fourth quarter in eight of its nine victories last season, but those deficits weren’t more than seven points.
On Sunday, the Lions nearly erased a 17-point Carolina lead. Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes in the fourth to Darren Fells, the second of which made it 27-24 with 3:22 to play.
The Lions never got the ball back, however, and paid a price for being outplayed badly in the middle two quarters.
As coach Jim Caldwell pointed out Monday, it wasn’t necessarily a slow start for Detroit, which led 10-3 early in the second.
“We just can’t have the kind of lapse that we had in the middle that gets them up by two scores,” Caldwell said.
“We ended the game battling back from a deficit and guys showed a lot of heart. That’s one thing you know about our team. They’re not going to give up. They’re going to fight you no matter who you are, and most of the time they’ll get us in position where we at least have a chance to win, and I think they did that, but we are certainly disappointed in the way we played in the middle stretch.”
Stafford was sacked six times, but was still in there when Detroit rallied. Caldwell wouldn’t provide details on his health situation Monday.
The Lions (3-2) enjoyed a plus-9 turnover margin through their first four games, but the only giveaway Sunday by either team was a fumble lost by Detroit. The Panthers had the ball for 35:23 and held the Lions to 242 yards.
Detroit’s problems protecting the passer — which had been evident in previous games — were tough to overcome this time.
“It’s our job to protect him no matter when it is. I don’t care if they’re blitzing, not blitzing, four-man rush, whatever it might be,” Caldwell said.
“We didn’t do a good enough job with that but there are a lot of moving parts that deal with protection, and it’s routes being run properly, guys getting open, balls delivered on time, offensive linemen blocking, tight ends blocking, backs blocking. So, there’s a lot of different things that go into it.”
Although the Lions have done some promising things in 2017, the loss at home left them right where they finished last season — a game behind Green Bay atop the NFC North.
Next weekend’s game at New Orleans — with an open date coming up afterward — will be crucial if the Lions want to avoid wasting much of the good work they’ve done so far.
“We have the guys, we have the coaches, we have the scheme,” Carey said. “We’re going to be OK.”
NOTES: The Lions released DE Armonty Bryant on Monday. Bryant was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He was eligible to return after that, but he did not play against Carolina.