Rookie Pinner Will Touch Ball More

Rookie Artose Pinner didn't light it up with nine carries for 26 yards and one reception for 21 yards in his NFL debut last week but he ran with some authority and is likely to get additional work Sunday at Carolina. Much more inside.

Rookie Artose Pinner didn't light it up with nine carries for 26 yards and one reception for 21 yards in his NFL debut last week but he ran with some authority and is likely to get additional work Sunday at Carolina.

"We're still going to play Shawn Bryson and alternate him with Artose Pinner," Mariucci said. "However, Artose will probably get more snaps than he did last week."

With a losing record guaranteed, Mariucci is trying to evaluate as many of his young players as possible before the end of the season. And Pinner obviously falls into that category.

The Lions rank dead last in the NFL in rushing yardage, averaging 83.8 yards per game. They have had only one 100-yard rushing game all season, a 105-yarder by Shawn Bryson last Sunday at Kansas City.

Mariucci and team president Matt Millen have to decide where a running back falls in their list of needs-to-be-filled before the 2004 season.

Veteran James Stewart rushed for more than 1,000 yards in two of his three years with the Lions but missed the entire 2003 season with a dislocated shoulder that required surgery. Bryson and Olandis Gary have 964 yards between them but Bryson is averaging 3.9 yards per carry and Gary 3.4 yards per carry.

It appears only a matter of time before they go after a more explosive back but if Pinner shows enough promise as a complement to Stewart, they might try to fill other needs before running back.

Other players that will see ample playing time in the Lions' remaining two games include DB Terrence Holt, DE Cory Redding and OLB James Davis. Holt has had extensive playing time in the second half of the season and has shown promise; Redding and Davis have shown flashes but both have missed practice time and playing time with injuries.

Mariucci wants to see all of them -- and other young players, as well -- in meaningful situations and -- considering the Lions' limited success with the veteran players -- he obviously has very little to lose.

BAD STREAK: The Lions need a win Sunday at Carolina to avoid breaking the NFL record for the longest road losing streak.

The 45-17 drubbing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs was their 23d in a row, moving them into a tie with the 1981-84 Houston Oilers for the worst in NFL history.

A loss at Carolina would give them the title outright, going three full seasons without a road win. Their last victory on the road was a 10-7 win against the New York Jets in the final game of the 2000 season.

The hope among the Lions is that they can somehow upset the Panthers and avoid an entire off-season with the record and the streak -- still alive going into the 2004 season -- hanging over their heads.

"If we don't get it accomplished -- I mean if we don't break the streak in this game -- then we may have to answer those questions on the Fourth of July, in August, and in training camp and in mini-camp," coach Steve Mariucci said. "I understand that.

"And if that's the case, then we're going to have to deal with it. Every time we prepare for a road game we'll prepare the best we can to see if we can go win one."

Although the Lions are only 4-10 for the season, they have accomplished two of the goals Mariucci set going into the season. They are 4-3 at Ford Field and beat a team (Green Bay) with a winning record, but they haven't won a road game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 13.6 points -- The Lions average margin of loss in their 23 consecutive road losses.

SERIES HISTORY: The Lions and Panthers will be meeting for only the third time. The Lions won the first game and the Panthers won the second game. Both of those games were at Ericsson Stadium, as will the game Sunday.

GAME PLAN: Offense is at a premium with the Lions. Their 17-point production in a 45-17 loss to Kansas City was their second-best in the last six weeks of the season and a pretty good indication that if they're going to beat the Panthers, they'll have to do it with defense. They need a strong performance by DTs Dan Wilkinson and Shaun Rogers to neutralize RB Stephen Davis.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Lions LT Jeff Backus vs. Panthers RDE Mike Rucker. Rucker leads the Panthers with 10 QB sacks but his knee injury might slow him down (assuming he plays) for Backus, who is playing with a broken toe.

Lions CB Dre' Bly vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith. Bly has his work cut out for him again against Smith, who already has 1,013 yards and six touchdowns on 81 receptions.

INJURY IMPACT: The Lions have fewer major problems this week than they have in recent games. In fact, CBs Dre' Bly (hamstring) and Otis Smith (leg) actually both practiced during the week. If either one has to leave the game early, however, the Lions secondary could be picked apart by QB Jake Delhomme.

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