Against a team like the Green Bay Packers, you can't afford to miss out on chances to put the game away. When you drive inside the 10-yard line in the final minutes of the game, you need a touchdown, not a field goal. Settling for three points means giving Aaron Rodgers a chance to lead the Packers to a comeback win. When you're a 4-5 team with your season on the line, settling for three is setting yourself up for defeat.
This is the script that played out for the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon. The Lions had a chance to take a 10-point lead on the Packers with the fourth quarter winding down. Instead, the Lions were forced to settle for a field goal, putting the pressure on their defense to hold a six-point lead. The defense folded under this pressure, and the offense couldn't bail the Lions out, allowing the Packers to win by a score of 24-20. In a season full of missed opportunities, the Lions suffered another agonizing defeat because they left points on the field.
The return of this whole theme of the offense costing the Lions games didn't come as a huge shock given what occurred at the start of Sunday's contest. The Lions won the toss and elected to receive only to go three-and-out yet again. Slow starts have been a problem all season, and this one continued after the defense came up with a stop, as the Lions again went three-and-out. This resulted in outstanding field position for Green Bay, as the Lions began their drive at their own 2-yard line thanks to Stefan Logan letting yet another punt bounce.
The Packers were poised to score given their starting field position, but with an assist to a couple holding penalties on Green Bay, the defense was able to hold tough. The Packers actually went for it on fourth-and-4 from the 31-yard line, and an incompletion resulted in the Lions getting the ball back.
The Lions' offense showed some life on its next drive. On third-and-12, Matthew Stafford threw a bomb downfield into double coverage. Calvin Johnson somehow made the catch for a gain of 53 yards, and following a 4-yard run and a penalty on Green Bay, the Lions found themselves inside the 10. They actually got all the way down to the 3-yard line, but a terribly designed play on third-and-goal resulted in a sack. This was the first time the Lions left points on the field in this game, as they had to settle for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
The Packers bounced back from a couple of rough opening offensive possessions with a scoring drive of their own. The Lions made good plays on first and second down, but the Packers owned them on third down. Detroit just couldn't get off the field, and three third-down conversions later, Green Bay was in the end zone on a 20-yard pass to Jermichael Finley, who was completely alone in the middle of the field.
The Lions provided a nice response of their own when the offense returned to the field on its next drive. They got a couple of third-down conversions and some big pass plays, including a 17-yarder to Will Heller and a 21-yarder and 14-yarder to Johnson. Mikel Leshoure also chipped in with a 10-yard run to set up his one-yard touchdown on the very next play. The score put the Lions back on top, 10-7.
Following a punt by the Packers, the Lions were again on the move after a 15-yard run by Leshoure and a roughing the passer penalty kept the drive alive on third down. At the very least, the Lions were in position for a field goal before halftime, but a turnover prevented that from happening. Stafford didn't see Casey Hayward, who undercut Titus Young's route for an interception. The Packers took over near midfield and appeared to be in position to tie things up or retake the lead. Again, a turnover prevented that from happening, as Jacob Lacey picked off Rodgers.
This ridiculous sequence of turnovers continued about a minute later on the Lions' next possession. Stafford made a great move to avoid a sack, but he didn't protect the ball when he started to scramble. This allowed the Packers to punch it loose, and they recovered it at the Detroit 42. Rodgers threw passes for 7 and 11 yards to move Green Bay into position for a touchdown, but a Nick Fairley sack for a loss threw a wrench into those plans. The Packers amazingly let the clock run down following the sack for reasons beyond me, and Mason Crosby missed a 50-yard field goal twice to end the half. (Jim Schwartz called timeout right before the first attempt, which went wide right. The second kick went wide left.)
The Lions came out roaring in the second half by forcing a stop and quickly moving into Green Bay territory. The offense was rolling and had a chance to really start pulling away from the Packers. Then disaster struck. Stafford threw a pass in the direction of Tony Scheffler just off target. Scheffler got a hand on it but couldn't make the catch, tipping it right to M.D. Jennings in the process. Jennings proceeded to return it 72 yards for a touchdown, giving the Packers a 14-10 lead and stunning Ford Field at the same time.
The Lions managed to shake off this killer mistake and put together another solid drive. They worked their way down the field through the air, on the ground and thanks to another personal foul by Green Bay. Ultimately, they managed to score a touchdown despite facing second-and-20 from the Green Bay 25. Stafford threw a bullet that went through the hands of a Green Bay defender and right to Johnson, who amazingly made the catch for a touchdown. The Lions were now back on top by a score of 17-14 as the end of the third quarter neared.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Packers faced fourth-and-5 from the Detroit 40. They surprisingly came out to attempt a 58-yard field goal, causing the Lions to take a timeout to prepare for a possible fake. Green Bay was certainly up to something, as they tried to send a man in motion before the snap. This resulted in a false start penalty, though, forcing Green Bay to punt. At the very least, it forced Detroit to burn a timeout, which would turn out to be a big deal later in the game.
Following a three-and-out by the Lions, the Packers again had outstanding field position. Once again, though, they couldn't do anything with it. The Lions forced a stop, and Crosby's struggles continued, as he pushed a 38-yard field goal wide left. With only 8:37 to go, the Lions remained on top, 17-14.
The Lions had a chance to essentially put this game out of reach on their next drive, and they seemed like they were going to accomplish this based on how it started. Stafford found Ryan Broyles for 27 yards on third down before finding Young for 24 yards a couple plays later. With first-and-goal from 10, the Lions were knocking on the door for a touchdown, especially after Leshoure went for three on first down. Second-and-goal from the 7-yard line is a pretty good spot to be in, but another run by Leshoure went for a loss of 2 yards, and a pass to Young on third down was incomplete. There should've been a flag considering Young was basically tackled in the end zone, but no call was made and the Lions had to settle for a 27-yard Jason Hanson field goal.
The Packers had 4:25 to score a touchdown and overcome the 20-14 deficit they faced. As it turned out, they only needed around half of that to score the go-ahead touchdown. A 40-yard pass to Finley set the Packers up to score, and on third-and-1 from the Detroit 22, they reached the end zone on a great catch by Randall Cobb. The Lions' defense collapsed at the worst possible time, and the Packers were now ahead 21-20 with 1:55 to go in the game.
The Lions had plenty of time to get into field goal range, but they couldn't even muster a first down. Stafford threw four consecutive incompletions as the Lions turned the ball over on downs. Green Bay got stuffed on three running plays after taking over and added a 39-yard field goal to make this a 24-20 game. The Lions used their final two timeouts and had only 19 seconds left when they got the ball back. This wasn't enough to do anything, as Johnson, on the desperation final play, lateraled the ball right to the Packers to end the game.
The Lions are now 4-6 with this 24-20 loss. Given their schedule, it's pretty clear this season is over as far as making the playoffs goes. It would require a miracle run for the Lions to have a good enough record to make the playoffs, and this team has shown week in and week out that it isn't good enough to make that happen. The players constantly fail to execute, and the coaching staff consistently looks clueless on the sideline. This team has big problems from the top on down, as evidenced by all of the mistakes they make each week.
It's pretty clear changes will need to be made next offseason. Just how major those changes are will come down to the final six games of the season. If the Lions completely collapse and fall apart down the stretch, those changes could cost several coaches their job. It would take an absolutely huge collapse for Schwartz to lose his job, but somebody will need to be the scapegoat, and the assistants are the most likely candidates to take the fall if things really go south to end the season.
I was really hoping to avoid NFL Draft talk before we even get to December, but with the 9-1 Houston Texans coming to town next Thursday, it's really inevitable at this point. The Lions came into this season as a franchise on the rise, but they have been nothing but a flop so far in 2012.