KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers might have to send extra defenders to consistently pressure QB Matt Stafford. The payoff could be rich. Stafford was pressured and picked off four times at Chicago last week and is playing with a gloved hand to protect a broken finger, without the crutch of a consistent running game. The Panthers will attack the Lions' hyper-aggressive front seven with their triple-threat running game -- QB Cam Newton and RBs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams -- while taking their shots downfield to WR Steve Smith and TE Greg Olsen. Newton's ability to extend plays could be deflating to the Lions' defense, but Detroit runs deep up front and Newton has been sacked 12 times the past three games.
FAST FACTS: The Panthers have been penalized 31 times in the last three games. ... The Lions scored 19 or fewer points in all three losses this season.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Panthers aren't sure if they will have tight end Jeremy Shockey for Sunday's game at Detroit.
Shockey missed his second straight day of practice Thursday with a rib injury, but coach Ron Rivera expressed optimism he will play Sunday.
"We just have to see how he is on Friday," Rivera said.
Shockey is fifth on the team in receptions, but is a big factor on offense.
Rivera believes that Shockey has been able to stay healthy because he's splitting reps with Greg Olsen.
In other news, linebacker James Anderson and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn both returned to practice. That's good news for the Panthers as both are key starters on an already depleted defense.
However, linebacker Jason Phillips remains out with a calf injury and probably will not play
It's like a tease: Running back Jahvid Best has been back at the team's practice facility this week. He even had his jersey on Thursday. But it doesn't appear he's any closer to being ready to play.
"He is improving," coach Jim Schwartz said. "He's back in the building and we are seeing him on a limited basis. Obviously that's a good sign. But there is still no clearance for physical activity."
Best, who has been looked at by several specialist the previous two weeks, will miss his fourth straight game with post-concussion symptoms.
"It's just good to see him back out here," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.
The run game, in Best's absence, has been slightly more productive than it was before the injury. The Lions, with Maurice Morris starting, are averaging 99 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry.
On the season, they are averaging 93.6 yards and 4.0 per carry.
Where Best has been missed, though, has been in the passing game. In the five games that he played, he caught 27 passes for 287 yards. In the three games he's missed, Lions running backs have seven receptions for 41 yards.
"It does impact us some," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We do things a little bit differently. Jahvid, obviously, was very good in the passing game and we'd split him out wide and run him some at receiver."
Morris, while capable of catching the ball out of the backfield, doesn't stress the back seven of a defense the same way the explosive Best does. The result, to varying degrees, is that the Lions are spreading out defenses as well as they could with Best.
"You can't replace Jahvid's production, really, not in a short span of time," Linehan said. "Other guys, other receivers, are picking up that slack.
But guys do things in different ways. You are talking about Jahvid's main strength, and that's being a dual-threat running and catching the ball. He's out now and that's part of the game.
"You just have to make up that slack however you can make it up."
There remains no timetable for Best's return.
--CB Chris Gamble could have to be matched up against Calvin Johnson on Sunday. The Panthers did that when they played against Larry Fitzgerald in Week 1.
--QB Cam Newton said his shoulder is fine and won't be a problem against Detroit.
--WR Legedu Naanee is coming off his best game as a Panther and will remain the team's No. 2 receiver.
--LB James Anderson (ankle) returned to practice Thursday after sitting out on Wednesday.
--LB Dan Connor was limited in practice Thursday but is expected to play. He's been bothered by a shoulder injury.
--DE Kyle Vanden Bosch was fined $7,500 for a late hit on Bears RB Matt Forte last Sunday.
--TE Brandon Pettigrew, who was the first man on the scene in defense of QB Matthew Stafford during his scuffle with Bears CB D.J. Moore, was not fined. "What could I possibly be fined for?" Pettigrew said, with a wry smile. "For protecting my quarterback? I do that every week with pass protection and run blocking. No, I didn't get fined."
--P Ben Graham was actually the Lions' first choice to fill in for injured Ryan Donahue (quad), but he was stuck back in Melbourne, Australia. The Lions signed Robert Malone for the one game, but already had Graham en route. "I can't thank the organization enough," said Graham, the first Australian to play in the Super Bowl (Cardinals, XLIII). "Ryan has an injury situation right now so I'm not sure how long I am going to be in the league. But I am glad for the opportunity to get back in and showcase what I can do because I think I have plenty of talent to play for another couple of years."
--WR Calvin Johnson said he thought the tackle by Bears DE Julius Peppers that forced him to fumble in the first quarter was a clean hit, not a clothesline. "Nah, he just reached for me," Johnson said. "I didn't see the number on the jersey or I would have known better. I would have tried to run around him. But it wasn't nothing nasty. It was a good play."
--DE Willie Young (ankle) did not practice on Thursday, his second straight miss. If he doesn't return Friday, he won't play on Sunday.
--DE Lawrence Jackson (thigh) missed his second straight day of practice Thursday.