September 10, 2014

The Carolina Panthers survived their first game without Cam Newton, but earning another win in Week 2 with him might prove to be the more difficult task.

After missing the opener with a rib injury, the Panthers' two-time Pro Bowl quarterback will return Sunday as the team hosts the Detroit Lions, who turned in one of Week 1's most impressive defensive performances.

"It's great to be out there grinding with the entire team and not have any restraints," Newton said after participating fully in Wednesday's practice.

The Panthers, who won their final seven regular-season home games in 2013, haven't started 2-0 since 2008.

They're in position to do so again after Sunday's 20-14 road win over Tampa Bay. Derek Anderson filled in for Newton with a clean 24-of-34 performance with 230 yards and two touchdowns.

Newton, who coach Ron Rivera admitted wasn't happy about being sidelined last week, had a front-row seat to watch rookie Kelvin Benjamin's debut. The 6-foot-5 receiver caught six passes for 92 yards and a score from Anderson, while tight end Greg Olsen caught the other TD as part of an eight-catch, 83-yard day.

Olsen's reception total has climbed in each of his three seasons with Newton, and along with Benjamin provides the quarterback with some size to target.

Rivera, though, expects more complete games from Benjamin as he progresses.

"He did a lot of good things and was very productive, but that doesn't speak to the whole body," Rivera told the team's official website. "His grade should have been higher. He's got to understand how to finish plays, how to be involved in plays even if the ball isn't coming to him. He's a young guy that has to learn those things."

The Panthers managed three takeaways, continuing the trend after finishing tied for third in the league with a plus-14 turnover margin last season.

It came as no surprise to Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who heaped plenty of praise on a Carolina defense that didn't allow more than 20 points at home last season.

"Their front four is a talented group," Caldwell said. "And they have possibly one of the best middle linebackers in all of football (in Luke Kuechly). The guy is active. He is a great quarterback for their defense. He's crafty, he'll hit you, and he has great ball skills. Overall, it's a really good defense, and we'll have to get ourselves ready to go."

Newton might remember his only career game against the Lions going poorly with a career-high four interceptions in a 49-35 loss Nov. 20, 2011.

Detroit also caused some problems for the New York Giants in Monday's 35-14 home win, limiting them to 197 yards - a total the Detroit defense had bettered just twice in the previous eight seasons.

The Lions' plus-2 turnover margin last week had to come as a relief for everyone who was around for last season's collapse. Detroit posted a minus-11 mark during a 1-6 stretch that cost them the NFC North.

Matthew Stafford and top target Calvin Johnson connected for two first-quarter scores as Johnson finished with seven catches for 164 yards. Stafford went 22 of 32 for 346 yards and two TDs to welcome Caldwell in smooth fashion.

"Matthew did a tremendous job, in terms of making good decisions. You saw him spread the ball around quite a bit," said Caldwell, whose QB threw five TDs in the 2011 meeting, the only one of his career with Carolina. "He did a nice job of not forcing the ball. He did take some check-downs that ended up being pretty sizable plays for us. He got us into the right plays.

"He managed the game well when we wanted to eat the clock, and he sped up the tempo when we wanted to do that. He threw the ball accurately."

Running the ball was a bit more of a struggle as the team averaged 2.5 yards per carry on 30 attempts, though that could have had plenty to do with in-game injuries to the offensive line.

The Lions' depleted front took a hit with tackle Corey Hilliard landing on injured reserve Wednesday with a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery. He played through the injury Monday after fellow tackle LaAdrian Waddle was lost in the first quarter with a calf injury. Waddle is out for this game.

Detroit added depth Wednesday with the signing of offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds, who has played the last four seasons with Atlanta.

The secondary was also depleted with nickel cornerback Bill Bentley being lost for the season due to a torn ACL.

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams missed his second straight day of practice Friday with a thigh injury and is questionable. Williams rushed 14 times for 72 yards in the opener.

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