After falling into an early 14-0 hole, the Detroit Lions rallied to tie things up at Lambeau Field in the second half. With Aaron Rodgers banged up, it seemed like the stars were finally aligning for the Lions to end their Lambeau losing streak and win their first-ever NFC North title.
Unfortunately, reality hit the Lions in the face and made it perfectly clear that the stars were doing no such thing. Rodgers quickly put the Green Bay Packers back on top, and the Lions just couldn't get out of their own way as the game started slipping away. The Lions certainly didn't get any help from the officials, but they simply didn't make enough plays down the stretch in order to avoid yet another road loss to the Packers. This time, it was a 30-20 defeat that handed the NFC North title to Green Bay.
Sunday's game opened in unsurprising fashion, as the Lions went three-and-out on their first drive. The Packers followed this up with a wild drive that mainly featured their ground game. Eddie Lacy pounded Detroit's No. 1 run defense, and eventually the Packers got all the way down to the 7-yard line. They had first-and-goal, and the Lions made stops on three consecutive plays to bring up fourth down -- or at least that's what it looked like. Instead, it was first-and-goal from the 1-yard line because of a penalty on James Ihedigbo. This didn't matter to the Lions, though. They made a stop on the next four plays, including stuffing Lacy on fourth-and-goal. The result was a huge goal-line stand that kept the Packers off the board.
The Lions managed to get some breathing room before having to punt the ball away again, but this merely led to a Packers touchdown return. The Lions' special teams units have been really bad lately, and that was especially the case on Micah Hyde's 55-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The Lions managed to respond with a promising drive on offense, getting all the way down to the Green Bay 36. Unfortunately, the drive stalled there, and rather than try a long field goal on fourth-and-11, the Lions decided to punt. This looked like a good decision with the ball being downed at the 6-yard line, but the Packers quickly flipped the field after Ihedigbo missed a tackle that would have brought up fourth down. Later in the drive, it looked like the Packers were well on their way to a touchdown, but Ihedigbo made up for his earlier mistake by punching the ball out of Lacy's hands. The fumble was recovered by George Johnson, keeping this a 7-0 game.
Once again, the Lions offense drove into Packers territory, and once again, Detroit came away with no points. This time, on fourth-and-10 from the 31, the Lions passed up a field goal to go for it, and Matthew Stafford sailed the ball over Golden Tate's head. This gave the ball back to the Packers, and they needed only six plays to find the end zone again. Rodgers, despite going down in pain after reinjuring his calf, found Randall Cobb for a 4-yard touchdown to give the Packers a 14-0 lead.
In need of something before halftime, the Lions offense finally delivered. They got some help from a roughing the passer penalty on Green Bay that kept the drive alive after an incompletion on third down, and they capitalized with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson on the very next play. This cut the lead back down to one touchdown, and the Lions went into halftime down only 14-7.
The second half couldn't have started any better for the Lions. With Matt Flynn in at quarterback, the Packers went three-and-out to open the third quarter, and the Lions took over near midfield as a result. They turned the good field position into points with an outstanding 11-play drive. They converted on fourth-and-1 at the Green Bay 30 to keep the drive alive, and four plays later, Stafford hit Johnson on a fade for a 4-yard touchdown. Suddenly, this game was tied 14-14.
Unfortunately for the Lions, Rodgers returned on Green Bay's next drive, and despite his injured calf, he put on a show. The Packers started with great field position thanks to Sam Martin's kick going out of bounds, and it didn't take Green Bay long to turn that into points. Rodgers found Cobb for a 13-yard touchdown on the seventh play of the drive, giving the lead back to the Packers with 3:33 to go in the third quarter.
The Lions got some great field position of their own with Jeremy Ross returning the ensuing kickoff to the Detroit 39. They weren't able to capitalize on it, though. The Lions put together an absolutely horrendous drive that featured three straight incompletions. This opened the door for the Packers to add to their lead, and they had a chance to do just that with a 52-yard field goal attempt. It was no good, however, as Isa Abdul-Quddus blocked the kick. This was the Lions' second blocked field goal in three games, and it gave the offense great field position yet again. (The field goal, by the way, came after the Lions unsuccessfully challenged a potential fumble by Lacy earlier in the drive. Rashean Mathis recovered the ball, but the original call of down by contact was upheld.)
Any real hope of the Lions winning this game pretty much disappeared on the very next play. Instead of capitalizing on the great field position to tie the game, the Lions fumbled the ball away on a botched handoff. Stafford got credit for the fumble, but it slipped right through Joique Bell's hands, and the Packers recovered. Nine plays later, Rodgers scored on a quarterback sneak from a yard out, even though it looked like he was down short of the goal line. The officials apparently saw it differently, and now the Packers led 28-14.
The Lions quickly moved into Green Bay territory after getting the ball back, but four straight incompletions led to a turnover on downs. After taking over, the Packers ran nearly five minutes off the clock before having to punt, and this merely set up the next scoring play for Green Bay. On the first and only play of Detroit's next drive, Stafford was pressured and had to throw the ball away. Unfortunately for him, the officials determined that he wasn't out of the pocket and no receivers were in the area, so they flagged him for intentional grounding. This happened in the end zone, resulting in a safety that made this a 30-14 game.
On the ensuing free kick, the Lions pulled off an onside punt that was somehow recovered by Cassius Vaughn in Green Bay territory. The bizarre play gave the Lions some life, especially after Stafford started moving the ball through the air. Only five plays after the recovery, Stafford found Theo Riddick in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown. The Lions went for two, and Bell appeared to have enough to find the end zone. Upon further review, however, the officials somehow decided that there was enough evidence to overturn the original call and mark Bell down short of the end zone. I have no idea how the officials came to the conclusion that they could justify overturning the call, but they did, and that essentially ended the game. The Packers recovered the Lions' next onside kick, and that was all she wrote for this one. The Packers held on for a 30-20 victory and clinched yet another NFC North title in the process.
The way this game played out for the Lions was beyond disappointing for a number of reasons. The Lions can't dwell on it, though. They are set to take on the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs next week, and that is now the main focus going forward.
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