DETROIT -- It was nearly another fourth-quarter comeback for the ages, but a failed two-point conversion sealed Carolina's fate as the Panthers fell 20-19 against Detroit at Ford Field on Sunday.
Down 13-7, Carolina's comeback hopes were almost dashed near the end of the third quarter when quarterback Cam Newton's left leg buckled after a Lions defender landed on him on second-and-8. Newton stayed down for couple of minutes, but would only miss one snap before returning at the start of the fourth quarter.
A Lions' three-and-out brought Newton and Co. back on the field, and the Panthers rallied with a 10-play, 92-yard scoring drive ended by a Newton pass to wide receiver Curtis Samuel from 12 yards out. The lead was within reach, but the score remained 13-13 after kicker Graham Gano missed the extra point.
A sack by defensive end Julius Peppers threatened to halt Detroit's next drive, but quarterback Matthew Stafford rolled to his right and hit wideout Kenny Golladay for a 36-yard gain on third-and-15 to extend the series. Moments later, Stafford found Golladay again - this time with cornerback James Bradberry providing excellent coverage - for a difficult 19-yard touchdown pass to put the Lions up 20-13.
A short Panthers drive gave Detroit a chance to ice the game, but linebacker Luke Kuechly came up with a big stop on second-and-6 that led to a Lions punt. A 34-yard bomb from Newton to running back Christian McCaffrey set the table for an exciting final two minutes of regulation. Four plays later, rookie wideout DJ Moore secured an 8-yard Newton pass deep in the right corner of the endzone to cut the deficit to one point.
With the game on the line, Carolina opted to go for two, but Newton's pass to receiver Jarius Wright was incomplete. Gano would attempt an onside kick but the Panthers failed to recover, allowing Stafford to kneel and close the door on Carolina's comeback dreams.
"Well, I think you go for two on the road to win the game. That's what I did," head coach Ron Rivera said. "What's to say the coin toss (in overtime) is gonna go in our favor, what's to say we're gonna stop them so why not go for two?"
Newton, after his injury scare, completed 13 of his 18 fourth-quarter passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 357 yards, three scores and an interception on 25-of-37 completions. Tight end Greg Olsen had just 8 yards on two receptions, but Newton connected with him for the duo's 35th TD - the third most among active QB-TE combos.
Moore led all receivers with a career-high 157 receiving yards and a TD, while Devin Funchess finished with two catches for 39 yards in his return to his hometown but also didn't haul in a couple of seemingly catchable balls.
Stafford finished going 23-of-37 for 220 yards and one touchdown. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson added 87 rushing yards and a score before exiting with an injury in the third quarter, while Golladay ended with 113 receiving yards and a TD. Detroit's defense contributed a pick, three sacks and six pass deflections.
For the second straight week, Carolina opened play with a scoring drive. Starting at their own 10, the Panthers marched 90 yards down the field, thanks largely to Newton connecting on five of six passes for 80 yards. The drive was capped by a 1-yard Newton pass to a wide open Olsen.
The Lions answered the Panthers' lengthy first drive with one of their own, with Johnson powering in an 8-yard TD run to end a 12-play, 72-yard drive. Carolina's next series was short-lived after Newton was sacked by Detroit linebacker Devon Kennard - the team's sack leader - on third-and-5 near the end of the first quarter.
Despite the quick turnaround, Carolina's defense impressed with several tackles for a loss to end the Lions' next drive. Another short Panthers series brought the defense out again, but the group forced a Lions three-and-out, punctuated by defensive end Mario Addison wrapping up running back Theo Riddick in the backfield for a 4-yard loss.
Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah ended Carolina's fourth drive with a sack, which eventually led to kicker Matt Prater nailing a 54-yard field goal to take a 10-7 lead into halftime.
The Panthers entered the second half looking for a spark after three punts and an interception ended their last four first-half drives. Moore would provide that boost, going vertical to haul in a Newton pass and turning in a 82-yard catch-and-run. The Panthers would take three shots at the end zone, but were stopped each time with the last being a Newton sack for a 12-yard loss.
Gano attempted to salvage the drive with a 34-yard field goal attempt from the Detroit 16, but the kick bounced off the left upright, squandering a huge scoring opportunity. Stafford would put together several big passes to help position Prater for a 32-yard field goal to increase Detroit's lead to 13-7 late in the third quarter.
After losing their last two - both on the road - the Panthers (6-4) will have a chance to stop the skid at home next Sunday afternoon when the Seahawks (5-5) visit Bank of America Stadium.