Lions turn it over 3 times, miss 2 FGs in 24-7 road loss to the Panthers

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Jim Caldwell plans to take his time before making any decisions about whether to replace rookie kicker Nate Freese.

Freese missed a pair of 49-yard field goals in the first half Sunday, setting the tone for a mistake-filled day for the Detroit Lions in a 24-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Caldwell said the kicking situation is just one of the areas the team needs to address following the loss.

"We certainly don't want to make any rash decisions or judgments right after ballgames are over with," Caldwell said. "We like to look at all of the parameters, but one of the things that we have now as our goal is to make 100 percent of our kicks. Every once in a while, there's a long kick and it's an extenuating circumstance but I think that's an area we need to be able to count on."

Caldwell said he wants to see his team run and throw the ball better, too. And he said cutting down on turnovers would certainly help.

Detroit (1-1) had trouble with taking advantage of their opportunities all day long.

Running back Joique Bell fumbled in Carolina territory, Matthew Stafford threw an interception on a deep ball and Jeremy Ross turned it over on a kickoff return.

"When you don't take advantage of your opportunities, you miss chances and turn the ball over, you're not going to have a good day," Stafford said.

The win leaves Cam Newton and the Panthers back atop the NFC South.

Newton made a successful return from a rib injury that sidelined him the first week, throwing for 281 yards and a touchdown. He completed 22 of 34 passes and overcame four sacks. Carolina is 2-0 for the first time since 2008.

Trailing 7-6 in the third quarter, the Panthers took advantage of back-to-back Detroit turnovers and scored on three straight possessions.

Carolina's defense, playing without Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, had three takeaways and held the Lions scoreless in the first half one week after Stafford and company put up 35 points against the Giants. Hardy, convicted on two counts of domestic violence on July 15, was a surprise inactive.

The Panthers decided not to play Hardy a day after the Minnesota Vikings announced they would deactivate Adrian Peterson, who was indicted on child abuse charges.

Mario Addison filled in nicely for Hardy with 2 ½ sacks.

Stafford threw for 291 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked four times.

The Lions (1-1) took a 7-6 lead early in the third quarter when Stafford connected on a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jed Collins, who bowled over NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly en route to the end zone.

But the lead was short-lived.

Newton bounced back leading the Panthers on an eight-play 72-yard drive and connected on his first TD pass of the season, a 14-yard strike to Jason Avant on a slant route.

Thomas DeCoud tipped a deep ball from Stafford and Melvin White intercepted to set up Carolina's next score. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who struggled with drops all day, hauled in a one-handed grab along the left sideline. Stewart capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run and Newton threw to Jerricho Cotchery for a 2-point conversion to put Carolina up 21-7.

Jeremy Ross fumbled the ensuing kickoff Panthers kicker Graham Gano recovered the fumble. Gano then made his third field goal of the game for the final score.

Wearing a thick flak jacket, Newton didn't change the way he played.

He scrambled from the pocket on one second quarter run and dived headfirst instead of sliding. He did the same thing near the goal line midway through the fourth quarter.

The plays where similar to the preseason game against New England when the fourth-year quarterback broke free from the pocket and dived headfirst only to get kneed in the ribs by a Patriots player. That hit sidelined Newton for the season opener against Tampa Bay.

"I felt like I was getting antsy early on and that comes from a lack of playing time," Newton said. "... I was getting my feet back under me and, as the game went on, I started feeling more comfortable and it showed."

NOTES: Newton clarified his comments about Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh after the game saying he didn't mean anything offensive when he referred to him as "Donkey Kong Suh" earlier in the week. ... Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson dislocated his foot during the second half. Caldwell said Lawson was having surgery after the game.


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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