DETROIT (AP)The Detroit Lions are rolling as they head into a matchup with Carolina – just as they were last season.
Detroit hopes to have a different result.
The Panthers played a part in keeping the surging Lions out of the playoffs, beating them by two touchdowns with a franchise-record 570 yards of offense in Week 16. It was Detroit’s second and final loss in a 10-game stretch.
“Different coach, different players, but a lot of those guys are still there,” Lions quarterback Jared Goff said. “Yeah, we’d like to get our chance back now and I know they’re going to come with it.
“They need a win and so do we.”
The NFC North-leading Lions (3-1) host the winless Panthers (0-4) on Sunday, aiming to hold onto their first outright division lead since Week 2 in 2017.
Carolina, with first-year coach Frank Reich and rookie quarterback Bryce Young, is off to its worst start since losing the first five games of the 2010 season.
“In one respect, we’re close,” Reich said. “In other respects, we’re making too many mistakes to even say that.”
Young, the No. 1 pick overall, is off to a rough start in part because he has been sacked 11 times in three games. He’s averaging 167.7 yards passing per game and has two touchdown passes, two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
Young insisted he’s not worried about comparisons with the No. 2 overall pick, Houston quarterback C.J. Stroud, who is off to a strong start.
“I’m always rooting for him and it’s great to see,” Young said. “But I’m just try to run my own race and try to control what I can control.”
Lions receiver Jameson Williams is eligible to play – two weeks earlier than expected – after the NFL reduced his six-game suspension for gambling.
Williams, whose training camp was cut short by a hamstring injury, will probably play sparingly against the Panthers as he gets into game shape and shows he knows where to line up and where to go in the offense.
When the No. 12 pick from the 2022 draft does get on the field, he will likely give Goff a deep-play threat as he did for Young at Alabama.
“He brings a different element that us and many other teams don’t have in terms of speed and the way he runs down the field,” Detroit receivers coach Antwaan Randle El said.
Detroit appears to have an edge at tight end.
Rookie Sam LaPorta has 22 receptions, the most by an NFL tight end in his first four games, for 242 yards and a touchdown.
Carolina’s four tight ends have combined for 13 catches, 114 yards and one score. They were held to a total of one catch for 7 yards in last week’s loss to Minnesota at home.
Hayden Hurst, who signed a three-year, $21.7 million contract with the Panthers in free agency, started strong with five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown in the opener. He has been held to five receptions and 38 yards over the last three games.
Goff has thrown one interception in three straight games, starting with a pick-6 in the Week 2 loss to Seattle, after he went 383 pass attempts without one.
“Those are the ones that really sting,” Goff said. “Just got to take care of the ball better. That is something I’m focused on.”
Carolina might be without three starters in the secondary because cornerback Donte Jackson has a shoulder injury, safety Xavier Woods hurt his hamstring and cornerback Jaycee Horn is on injured reserve.
The Panthers’ 0-4 start has put them in a predicament. Out of 164 teams that lost their first four games in the Super Bowl era, only the 1992 Chargers made the playoffs.
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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