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Offensive line rebounds in win over Lions  


CHARLOTTE – D'Onta Foreman saw the offensive line walk into a meeting this week with black ski masks on, and he knew they were taking their bad game against Pittsburgh personally, and that something was coming.

Right guard Austin Corbett said the ski masks were right tackle Taylor Moton's idea, and it became "perfect timing" considering the cold and windy weather during Friday's walkthrough. Corbett modestly downplayed the symbolism behind the masks at first, and eventually joked that he was "educated" in their meaning. But the symbolism wasn't lost on anyone. The O-Line came in with something to prove against the Lions.

"T-Mo just blessed us with some ski masks; it was cold, so we had to protect ourselves," Corbett said with a grin. "I'll leave it at that."

The Panthers set franchise records in total yards (570) and rushing yards (320) against Detroit, just six days after Carolina's run game was stifled to a decade-low 21 yards by the Steelers.

"We obviously didn't get the job done last week, and we took that very personally," Corbett said. "We were able to go out there and get back to who we are, what we wanted to do."

While creating holes for an oppressive ground attack, the Panthers also protected quarterback Sam Darnold. He wasn't sacked or even hit by the Lions, and finished his fourth-straight game without an interception. In last week's loss to Pittsburgh, Darnold was sacked four times and took six hits.

"It's huge," center Bradley Bozeman said. "We weren't doing our job very effectively – keeping that guy clean and safe. He can step up and make throws, give him more confidence. If I was back there getting hit all the time, I wouldn't have a ton of confidence. Giving him plenty of time to go out there and throw the ball, it was really good. It was a good day for us."

Interim coach Steve Wilks said the Panthers were "embarrassed" by the poor performance against Pittsburgh, and he saw the offensive line step up in Saturday's offensive showcase.

"They bounced back and showed their true character in how we practiced this week and, most importantly, how we came out and performed," Wilks said. "Those guys up front accepted the challenge."

Bozeman said he knew the Panthers' physical mindset had been established heading into the Lions' game, especially when the opening drive went 78 yards in five plays – all rushes.

Leaders among the offense as a whole, the line paved the way for Carolina's personality to re-emerge, all while engaging with, celebrating, and defending their teammates.

In the first half, Foreman jumped in a circle with the line after his first touchdown since the Thursday night win over Atlanta in Week 10, when Foreman leaped into the stands. He had promised Moton he would let him spike the ball after his next score, a tradition Moton has been a part of the past few seasons.

Later, rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu led the charge to stand up for Foreman after the running back was thrown to the turf late by Lions defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness.

"The guys took up for me, and I really appreciated that," Foreman said. "I couldn't let them just get in there without me getting back in there. I had to go back and help those guys too. They got my back; I got their back."

Added Ekwonu:

"You want to take care of your guys as much as you can. Any time you feel like someone does something late or does something unnecessary, (you) want to go over there and take care of our guys. Obviously, seeing one of our players get thrown down onto the ground after the whistle, that's something we've got to nip in the bud right away. So I'm pretty proud of the way the O-line stood up for our guys."

As the Panthers prepared to end the game in the victory formation, members of the offense went in for hugs, including Corbett and Moton on the right side of the line.

"(We) talked about how we love each other," Moton said. "It's really been awesome playing next to him. … I love being able to work with him, just the dialogue and the way that we can make each other better."

It's just one testament of many about how the five starting members of the O-line — which has remained intact other than when Bozeman was brought in for center Pat Elflein in Week 6 — have stuck together through the later stages of the season.

Throughout the year, they have continued to build chemistry through multiple quarterback changes and skill position turnover.

"We were still close, even through those tougher times," Ekwonu said. "I feel like that's one of the reasons that we got out of those times, was the connectedness we had as a team, the gel that we had as a team. We never want to let each other down."

Perhaps that's why the Pittsburgh loss stung so much, why Moton wanted to give ski masks to his teammates on the line to remind them who they were, and why they were able to put on a franchise-best show right after a season-low.

"It's just everything about this sport; we put in too much work to not take everything personally," Moton said. "That's how I feel about it. … We just have to be mature at the end of the day, in weeks like (last week), but it's just how do you respond? And that's what the big message was coming all the way from the head man (interim head coach Steve Wilks).

"Ultimately, that's what we did – I felt, personally, we responded well. But we're not satisfied, and we just carry on the next week."

View photos from the field, tunnel and locker room as the Panthers celebrated a record-setting win over the Lions.

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