CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jared Goff has the surging Detroit Lions in contention for a wild card spot.
Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers still have plenty to play for as well, despite a 5-9 record.
The teams clash in Charlotte on Saturday in a game that will impact NFC playoff scenarios.
The Lions (7-7) have won six of their last seven games and are a half-game behind Washington in the race for the final wild-card spot. Carolina is coming off a home loss to Pittsburgh, but still controls its playoff destiny. If the Panthers win out, they’ll win the NFC South title and host a playoff game in January with a losing record.
The Lions are hoping Goff’s playoff experience — he helped the Los Angeles Rams reach the Super Bowl four years ago — will help ready some of his younger teammates for a run at the postseason.
“I think as the quarterback of the team and a leader on this team that is part of my job, but not because I have experience in it, just because that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Goff said.
Meanwhile, Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks has informed his players and staff he doesn’t want to hear a word about the playoffs, saying all their focus should be on Detroit following his team’s lackluster performance against the Steelers.
“I’m just glad we still have a chance” at the playoffs, cornerback Jaycee Horn said. “It’s not ideal, this situation, but it is what it is and we have to make the most of it and get to the playoffs.”
A big part of the Lions’ resurgence can be attributed to Goff’s improved play.
He has thrown 219 straight passes without an interception — the best active streak in the league and the longest in team history — to get the Lions back to .500 after a 1-6 start. Since getting picked off in a Nov. 6 win over Green Bay, he’s become the first QB in franchise history to start six straight games without turning the ball over.
Goff has deflected credit, particularly to his offensive line, which has not allowed a sack over the past two games and has given up just 19 all season, tying Dallas and Tampa Bay for the fewest in the league.
“Most certainly it starts with those guys up front doing their job and keeping guys away,” Goff said. “It allows me to play pretty freely.”
Goff surpassed 25,000 yards passing in his career last week against the New York Jets in his 97th career game, matching the number of games it took Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner to reach the mark.
“Definitely something cool to see … with those guys, who it’s with,” Goff said.
BACK TO THE GROUND
Carolina’s quarterbacks aren’t going to be breaking any records this year. Darnold is Carolina’s third starting QB and he’s 2-1 so far. But the Panthers are largely built around the running game, and that’s what their focus will be against the Lions.
Carolina managed just 21 yards on 16 carries last week against the Steelers.
Running back D’Onta Foreman said the Panthers have to get back to being a “dominant” running team.
“They outworked us honestly, and played a better game than we did,” Foreman said of Pittsburgh. “Sometimes you have those games where it is not clicking. But I believe in our offensive line and I know we got the right guys.”
Detroit defensive end Romeo Okwara had his third two-sack game against the Jets. It came in his second game this season after a 14-month recovery from a torn Achilles tendon.
“It’s just a testament to the kind of guy he is, the type of character he has,” coach Dan Campbell said. “He’s worked himself back into this position and he’s only going to get better, better and better the more he plays.”
“I better have fresh legs at this point,” Okwara said. “It felt good to run around. It felt good to feel like my old self.”
RUN, SAM, RUN
Wilks has been trying to encourage Darnold to use his athleticism more by tucking the ball away and running, especially when the Panthers are desperate for a first down. Carolina is 30th in the league in third down conversions.
With high temperatures forecasted to be around 32 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, this could be the coldest game ever at Bank of America Stadium. It was 30 degrees at kickoff on Jan. 3, 2010, when the Panthers hosted the Saints.
The Panthers have a practice bubble but have been practicing outside all week.
“Last I’ve checked, the Bank of America (Stadium) doesn’t have a dome,” Wilks said. “We’ve got to be outside, so that’s the reason why we were out there.”