The scene was all too familiar. Up 22–20 against the Green Bay Packers with just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Detroit Lions had seen the picture in front of them before.
They had a late lead against one of the league’s best teams. They had an opportunity to make a statement by stopping one of the game’s best quarterbacks. The Lions had put together a valiant effort to prove they were for real, and on Monday night, with first place in the NFC North on the line, they finally could.
Instead, they blew it, falling to 2-2-1 on the season with a 23–22 loss to the Packers.
The night had started promising for the Lions, who wasted little time opening up the playbook in the first quarter. On the first play of the game, Detroit fooled Green Bay’s safeties with a flea-flicker, leaving wide receiver Kenny Golladay wide open for a 66-yard gain down to the 11-yard line. But the Lions' momentum was quickly derailed. Matthew Stafford fumbled the ball after colliding with fullback Nick Bellore on the next play, and three plays later they were settling for a short field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
After a quick three-and-out from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense, Stafford again aired it out down the field, this time to Marvin Hall for 58 yards. That play set up Kerryon Johnson’s one-yard score on fourth-and-goal, extending the early lead to 10 before a Matt Prater 22-yard field goal in the second quarter made it 13-0.
But they should have had more. The Lions advanced inside Green Bay’s 10-yard line on each of their first three possessions, but had just 13 points to show for it. T.J. Hockenson dropped a sure touchdown pass. Dee Virgin forced a fumble on special teams, but Stafford and the offense couldn’t do anything with it. By the end of the second quarter, Rodgers had made it a game, cutting the deficit to 13-10.
The missed opportunities continued through the second half. Prater wound up kicking five field goals (26, 22, 48, 41 and 51 yards), and the Lions allowed Green Bay to hang around.
That’s when it became deja vu all over again.
Like its last outing against Kansas City, Detroit started watching the lead slip away. This time it was Rodgers leading the Packers downfield. Getting free on runs. Making clutch throws.
And with the ball in his hands with 6:46 left to play, Rodgers put together a 14-play, game-winning drive––his 21st overall and sixth against the Lions––to set Mason Crosby up for the walk-off 23-yard field goal.
There’s no doubt the Lions will feel like they got robbed in the process, and rightfully so. There’s no justifying the not one, but two egregious hands to the face penalties on Lions defensive end Trey Flowers at the most critical points of the game.
The first call came on a third-and-10 sack by Kevin Strong that would have forced a Packers punt. Instead, the drive continued, and three plays later, Rodgers delivered a strike to Allen Lazard for a 35-yard touchdown that trimmed the Detroit lead to 22-20 with 9:03 remaining.
Flowers was called for the same penalty again on a third-down play on the final drive of the game, giving the Packers a fresh set of downs to run out the clock and try for the field goal.
And on both occasions, Flowers’s hands never got into anyone’s face mask.
Still, the calls don’t negate the fact that Detroit left too many points out on the field. Yes, the Packers got an assist from the officials, but they turned the ball over three times. They were short-handed at receiver. They fell behind 13-0, and still ended up with the victory.
The Lions have no one to blame for that but themselves.
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Wishing you more friends than Jason Garrett had on Sunday.
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