On a snowy Sunday night at Lambeau Field, the Detroit Lions gave us a glimpse of how good they can be. Much like recent weeks, they were at times able to play like a team destined for the postseason instead of a top-10 draft pick. They played like a team fighting for an NFC North crown instead of a spot at the bottom of the standings. For a little more than one quarter, the Lions were the team we expected them to be when they exited the playoffs at the end of last season.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the team we now know them to be -- an underachieving, inconsistent group that can't finish games -- ultimately showed up on Sunday night. They didn't even wait until the fourth quarter to blow their lead this week, instead allowing their excellent start to go to waste early in the third quarter. While the game did enter the final 15 minutes tied, the Lions, to no one's surprise, faded even more in the fourth quarter. This allowed the Green Bay Packers to cap off their rally with a 27-20 victory and extend their home winning streak over the Lions at least another year.
For the first quarter and a half of Sunday night's game, I wanted to believe that this was finally the year the Lions would end their Wisconsin losing streak. The Lions not only came out with a sense of urgency and creativity that we haven't seen in some time, but they executed to perfection. On the game's opening drive, the Lions took the ball 80 yards on 12 plays and ran 7:44 off the clock. Stafford was finding receivers on third down to move the chains, and the Lions were running the ball as well as they have all season. The Packers couldn't get a stop until they stuffed Mikel Leshoure on third-and-1 from the 4-yard line, but even that didn't matter. On fourth down, Stafford faked a handoff and glided into the end zone for a touchdown on a perfect bootleg. The Lions led 7-0 and delivered a big punch to the Packers in the opening round.
The Packers returned fire with a drive we've seen many times before. The Lions defense couldn't slow Green Bay down, and it couldn't get off the field on a key third down. The Packers kept moving the ball and were seemingly going to score with ease. Even the Lions' bend-but-don't-break style didn't seem to be working. Then Lawrence Jackson happened. Ndamukong Suh made a great play to tee up a sack for Jackson, and Jackson did not disappoint. He crushed Aaron Rodgers from behind and knocked the ball loose. Stephen Tulloch fell on it for the fumble recovery, giving the Lions what felt like a rare takeaway at a key moment.
The Lions offense picked up where it left off on its first drive and again had no trouble moving the ball. The Packers were playing the role of the Lions and were getting gashed on the ground and burned through the air. The biggest play of the drive was a 27-yard pass to Kris Durham, who somehow hauled the ball in with one hand while fully extending. Durham made his presence felt early on with this catch, and it set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to Tony Scheffler. The Lions now held a 14-0 lead -- their biggest in Wisconsin since 1988, according to NBC. (After the touchdown, the Lions were flagged for excessive celebration because Joique Bell joined Scheffler and pretended to shovel snow.)
This all seemed a bit too good to be true. You could just sense that reality was about to smack the Lions in the face, and it seemed to be doing so when the Packers opened their next drive with a 27-yard pass to Greg Jennings. Then a funny thing happened. The Lions defense, capitalizing on a holding penalty on the very next play, managed to hold the Packers to a 49-yard field goal attempt. Mason Crosby, despite failing in a big way a few weeks back indoors at Ford Field, made the kick in the snowy and windy conditions at Lambeau, and he cut the lead down to 14-3.
Although the Packers got on the board, the Lions were still in complete control of this game. Their offense was dominating, and the Packers offense had barely even seen the field in the first half. Once again, the Lions were on the move, and it didn't seem like the Packers had any chance of stopping them. I mean, when the Lions are converting third downs with passes to Durham, life is good.
Unfortunately, it was after the Lions' latest third-down conversion that the fun came to an end. The Lions were at the Green Bay 42-yard line and managed to turn a potential touchdown drive into points for the opposition. The worst thing of all is that it wasn't really a mistake; it was just bad luck. The ball slipped out of Stafford's hands as he tried to throw a pass, and he was unable to fall on it when it hit the ground. This allowed Mike Daniels to pick up the ball and return it 43 yards for a touchdown. The Lions' lead was now down to 14-10, and all of the momentum they had built up was now gone.
Despite the turnover, the Lions managed to come out strong with another drive that saw them enter Packers territory. Like the previous drive, they were on the move and well on their way to more points. Also like the previous drive, a turnover derailed the possibility of the Lions adding to their lead. This time, it was a mistake. Stafford and Durham weren't on the same page, as Durham didn't run the route Stafford was expecting. This led to an easy interception by Sam Shields, giving Green Bay the ball near midfield after the return.
Believe it or not, but the Lions defense actually managed to fight off the Packers before halftime by forcing a three-and-out. The Lions took over, picked up one first down and promptly took a knee to head into the locker room up 14-10. Despite their recent mistakes and blown opportunities, they still had the lead.
The third quarter is when things really started to go downhill for the Lions. The defense we saw on Green Bay's first drive showed up for the Lions, but there was no key turnover this time. Instead, there was a key penalty on Ndamukong Suh. On third-and-6 at the Green Bay 41, Rodgers threw an incomplete pass and was shoved to the ground by Suh. It wasn't a big hit, but Suh should know better than to put himself in a position to be flagged. He's gotten away with late shoves like that before, but he didn't this time. He was hit with a personal foul (his first of the season), giving the Packers an automatic first down. (The Lions were also offside, so Green Bay would've had another play either way.) They quickly turned this penalty into points, as Rodgers managed to elude pressure and run for a 27-yard touchdown five plays later. The Packers were now on top for the first time in this game.
The Lions responded by once again moving into Green Bay territory with no real trouble. This time, a 19-yard pass to Calvin Johnson and an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Packers helped the cause. The Lions got down to the Packers 36-yard line thanks to this sequence, but they couldn't get much farther. An incompletion on third-and-2 resulted in a field goal try, and Jason Hanson connected from 46 yards out to tie this game up at 17.
After the two teams traded punts on the next two possessions, the Packers got good field position by starting at the 50. They quickly turned that good field position into potential points with a 24-yard pass to Randall Cobb on the first play of the drive. The Lions defense forced two incompletions immediately after this, and on third down, Nick Fairley made a huge play by sacking Rodgers for a loss of 7 yards. Fairley drove the offensive lineman blocking him back into Rodgers for the sack, and it made Crosby's impending field goal attempt much more difficult. Actually, it turned out to be the difference between the kick being good and missing. Crosby's 51-yard attempt barely sailed wide left, meaning Fairley kept this game tied with his sack.
The Lions used the good field position from the missed field goal to once again advance into Green Bay territory. This time, a 15-yard pass to Bell on third down got them past midfield. Unfortunately, the Lions couldn't get another first down, and by the time Hanson came out to kick a 51-yard field goal, the fourth quarter had started. This meant that the wind was now in Hanson's face, and his kick came up just short of the crossbar. The game was still tied, and now it was the Packers that had great field position because of a missed field goal.
The Packers' next drive had a total of 7 plays. All of them came on the ground, as the Packers gashed the Lions defense en route to a 59-yard touchdown drive. The Lions just looked lost all of a sudden, and the Packers scored on a 14-yard run by DuJuan Harris.
Now trailing 24-17, the Lions needed to provide a response on offense. At first, they appeared to be doing just that, but the Lions stalled near midfield. To make matters worse, Nick Harris' punt went only 31 yards and was returned 13 yards. This meant that Green Bay got the ball back with good field position, and thanks to a 38-yard pass to Cobb, the Packers eventually turned this good field position into a 41-yard field goal by Crosby.
The Lions were running out of time with the score now 27-17, so they went exclusively to the shotgun and saw success initially. The Lions got to the Green Bay 44 and at the very least appeared to be on their way to a field goal. As they showed throughout the game, though, this didn't mean much. They were able to get past the 50, but after that it was a struggle. This time, the Lions had four consecutive incompletions. On fourth down, Stafford was actually picked off, but the call was reversed. This benefited the Packers, as they got to take over near midfield, just needing to run time off.
The Lions did come up with a stop, and they did manage to cut into the lead with a 34-yard field goal. Unfortunately, that field goal came in the closing seconds of the game. The Lions just wanted to make it a one-possession game to set up the possibility of another miracle onside recovery followed by a Hail Mary. There would be no miracle, though. The Lions went with the pooch onside, and it did almost work. The ball ended up bouncing out of bounds downfield, though. This allowed the Packers to simply take a knee and ice their 27-20 victory.
At this point in the season, with the Lions now 4-9, I'm not even upset over what transpired in Green Bay. I'm just disappointed that the same script keeps playing out every week. The Lions will give us flashes of brilliance only to ultimately succumb to their inconsistent ways. On Sunday night, their brilliance lasted for a good chunk of the first half. What followed, however, was what has doomed them for the last month -- their inability to convert drives into points and put the game out of reach. You can't let the Packers hang around at Lambeau Field. That's what has gotten the Lions into this ridiculous losing streak in Wisconsin in the first place. They did just that, though, and the Packers, as expected, made them pay.
The Lions have now lost five consecutive games this season. They were once 4-4 with hopes of a run to the playoffs. Now they are 4-9 with hopes of simply salvaging this season into something that isn't a complete disaster. The good news for them is that the Arizona Cardinals, which have lost nine in a row and are coming off of a 58-0 loss, are up next on the schedule. The bad news, of course, is that a loss to the Cardinals could very well turn this season into a complete disaster. There are no must-wins left for the Lions given their place in the standings, but for the sake of avoiding their biggest meltdown yet, they can't afford to lose to the Cardinals next Sunday.