A week after playing their worst game of the season in a 27-point home loss to Tennessee, Carolina started with one of its best halves of 2011 against Detroit and led 27-14 at halftime.
The Panthers led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, in large part due to their suddenly feisty defense. The Panther D caused three Detroit turnovers in three possessions in the first quarter -- an interception by linebacker James Anderson, an interception by Charles Godfrey in the Panthers' end zone and a fumble recovery by Andre Neblett.
The first one of those led to no points, as Cam Newton threw his own interception. But the last two did. Carolina went 73 yards on one drive before stalling inside the Detroit 10, with the key play a 29-yard run by DeAngelo Williams. That led to an Olindo Mare 27-yard field goal.
Then, after a fumble recovery, Newton hit Steve Smith in the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown pass to give Carolina a 10-0 lead.
Disgruntled Detroit fans have booed the Lions offense several times. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, playing with a broken finger on his throwing hand and a glove to cover it, had now thrown six interceptions in the past five quarters for Detroit.
Stafford and Detroit cut the margin to 10-7 early in the second quarter however with a lightning-fast, three-play, 80-yard drive. On consecutive plays, running back Kevin Smith ran 46 yards straight up the middle and then took a screen pass 28 yards for a touchdown, as the Panthers' defense suddenly cooled off.
But then Panther rookie Kealoha Pilares took the kickoff return back 101 yards for a touchdown. Boos rained down again in Detroit, and the Panthers quickly led 17-7 with 13:50 still to go in the second quarter. It was the Panthers' first kickoff-return TD in eight years.
And then Carolina added to its lead. Following a Detroit punt, Carolina got a key Detroit penalty to get a fresh set of downs, followed quickly by a 26-yard run from DeAngelo Williams and an 11-yard TD scamper from Newton. That put Carolina up, 24-7, before a stunned Detroit crowd.
But Detroit came back quickly, with Stafford leading another TD drive capped by a short pass. That cut Carolina's lead to 24-14.
Remember, Detroit has already come back from two deficits of 20 or more points to win this year. The biggest Carolina lead so far has been 17 points.
But the Panthers weren't content to sit on the ball. Starting at their own 14, they drove all the way to the Lions' 14 in a 13-play, 72-yard march. Mare hit a 31-yard field goal as time expired at the end of the first half, giving Carolina a 27-14 lead at halftime.
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