DETROIT - A trio of Panthers had opportunity knock in different ways Sunday, and all three responded by answering the call.
The first-half highlights for linebacker Jordan Senn, kick returner Kealoha Pilares and defensive end Thomas Keiser bode well for the future, though they were temporarily tempered by a Detroit's second-half surge for a 49-35 victory.
"I feel all right about it, but if we don't win, it doesn't matter," Senn said. "It was fun to get to play, but without the win, that really takes the fun out of it."
Senn, a fourth-year pro, got his first NFL start with Dan Connor sidelined by a shoulder injury. He responded with six tackles as well as a forced fumble that set up a touchdown.
Pilares, a rookie, often has to be patient because of first-year kickoff rules that result in as many touchbacks as returns, but he made the most of his first return Sunday by scampering a franchise-record 101 yards for a touchdown.
And defensive end Thomas Keiser, also a rookie, came up with a pair of first-half sacks in just his second game after spending the first half of the season on the practice squad.
"Those guys played very well," Keiser said. "Some guys are getting their shot right now, and you see how it's going.
"I feel very blessed. I'm just trying to go out and make the most of every day."
In more subtle ways, a trio of newcomers to special teams made their mark as well. Linebacker Kion Wilson and running back Josh Vaughan got their first crack of the season Sunday, and fullback Richie Brockel got his first shot since Week 5.
Brockel made his first career reception – a 5-yarder – in addition to his contributions on special teams.
"The guys we brought in – Kion Wilson, Josh Vaughan and Richie Brockel – gave us a little bit of energy on special teams," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We'll continue to use those types of guys, who come out and play hard and give everything they've got on special teams."
Pilares' impact play was anything but subtle.
"I haven't run that far in a long time. I had to remind myself to pick up my legs and not get caught," Pilares said. "It was supposed to be a middle return, but everyone converged on me, so I ditched it and made one cut, and then I just had one guy to beat. Then I just tried to not get caught.
"I'm just trying to help the team out the best I can on every play, and I think the rest of the guys are trying to do that, too. On every return the guys go out there and block their hardest, not knowing if I'm going to take it out or not. I thank them for always being ready."
Sunday's game provided a vivid example of just how important staying ready can be.