The Detroit Lions have already learned how to live without one of the best running backs to play the game. Now they get to see how they fare without his replacement.
Overcoming the early departure of Ron Rivers to a broken ankle, the Lions rode a strong performance by Charlie Batch and their defense to stay atop the NFC Central with a 24-9 victory over Carolina on Sunday.
Rivers, who emerged as Detroit's top runner after Sanders' departure, rushed just once Sunday. He left with what was initially diagnosed as a sprained right ankle. Subsequent X-rays showed a fracture that likely will end Rivers' season, Ross said.
Batch threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns and the Lions defense repeatedly made big plays against a team coming off its first back-to-back 30-point games in franchise history. Five times the Panthers drove to the Detroit 3-yard line or closer, but they came away with just three field goals.
"We didn't do anything tricky," said Detroit safety Mark Carrier, who ended one of the drives with an interception in the end zone. "I think they were getting mad. They were getting upset. And from our perspective, we were building momentum."
Hill rushed for 70 yards and Batch, showing no ill effects of a throwing-arm bruise that forced him out of last week's game, completed 16 of 27 passes
Carolina (2-4) was penalized nine times and Steve Beuerlein was sacked four times, helping spoil the Panthers' bid to reach .500 for the first time since December 1997.
"We felt we were coming on as a football team," coach George Seifert said. "The spark, the zest wasn't there. We need to find a way to rekindle it."
The Panthers' biggest problem was their inability to finish drives.
"We were terrible inside the 5-yard line," Beuerlein said. "It's embarrassing."
Seifert took the blame for Carolina's troubles, saying the Panthers got too cute in their play-calling when they got close to the end zone.
"We were executing very well in the red zone, and today we just self-destructed as much as you could down there," he said.
Batch went 5-for-7 for 49 yards on the drive that put Detroit ahead to stay, a 12-play, 80-yard march aided by four Carolina penalties. The drive ended on a 1-yard run by Irvin that made it 7-3 in the second quarter.
Batch drove the Lions for touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half, going 7-of-10 for 99 yards. He capped the first with a 22-yard scoring pass to David Sloan and the second with a 3-yarder to Brian Stablein.
The Panthers were at the Detroit 2 three times in the first half, but had to settle for John Kasay's two field goals.
Carolina's opening possession produced a first-and-goal at the 1, but the Panthers lost 2 yards on two rushes and a third-down pass fell incomplete, bringing on Kasay for a field goal.
It was a sign of things to come.
Twice more in the first half Carolina got to the Detroit 2, but couldn't finish the drives. The first ended when Beuerlein's underthrown pass was intercepted by Carrier in the end zone. The second ended when linebacker Chris Claiborne sacked Beuerlein for an 11-yard loss, leading to Kasay's 30-yard field goal.
The fourth failure came on Carolina's opening possession of the second half. The Panthers got to the 3, only to lose 2 yards and settle for a 23-yard field goal.
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