Packers kicker Mason Crosby discusses his late missed field goal, and linebacker Nate Palmer and receiver James Jones talk about the team's 18-16 loss to the Lions. (Nov. 15, 2015)
The wind was swirling, hard to judge. The ground was “chewed up,” filled with divots. There were 52 yards separating the Green Bay Packers from a remarkable, darn near miraculous win, and plenty of hazards.
No, this wasn’t a sure thing.
It just felt that way as Mason Crosby measured his potential game-winning field goal Sunday. The Packers had overcome second, third and fourth chances already. Two missed extra points. An onside kick recovery. After 24 straight home wins against the Detroit Lions, it seemed inevitable Crosby’s kick would split the uprights.
“I felt great coming off the field,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We’ve got an incredible, historic kicker, and I felt like we were going to nail that one.”
Crosby nailed the football, all right. It left his cleat like a balloon with the air being let out. It looked like it was blocked. It had to be blocked.
It wasn’t blocked.
Crosby kicked a knuckler. He watched it corkscrew to the grass, nowhere near the uprights. It was a fitting end to the Packers’ 18-16 loss to the Lions at Lambeau Field, another blunder on an afternoon filled with them. Carnival music was the only thing missing from this running blooper reel.
The Lions hadn’t won a football game in the state of Wisconsin since 1991. There have been nine head coaches in Detroit since then, two Super Bowl titles in Green Bay. They did everything possible to extend their drought another year. Seriously, two missed extra points and a botched onside kick on the same day? The game was handed over on a silver platter.
Then, roles reversed. Somehow, the Packers found a way to out-Lions the Lions.
“We’ve got to win that game,” Crosby said. “I hate it. It kills me inside. I need to look at my teammates and make sure they know that I’m going to keep working, and they can trust me down the line.
“I’ve got to go out there and do my thing. That’s what I’m most disappointed about. It didn’t feel any different. I’ve obviously have hit some big kicks here, but that one just didn’t come off the right way.”
November has been a long month for the Packers, and it’s only half over. They entered their bye week 6-0, undefeated through September and October. Now, they’ve lost three straight games with Rodgers at quarterback for the first time since 2008, his first season as starter.
Sunday was a new low. The Packers' previous two games were on the road against undefeated opponents. No loss is accepted inside an NFL locker room, but some can be explained easier than others.
To a 1-7 opponent?
Add the 24-year streak, and Sunday’s defeat is one of the most inexplicable in the team’s recent history.
“Losing to a team at home that we haven’t lost to in 25 years,” left guard Josh Sitton said, “is definitely going to be a blow to the confidence a little bit. Every division game is going to be a tough battle. We know that. It’s not like Detroit’s a bad football team. They are in the NFL.”
Yes, the Lions are in the NFL. They just haven’t beaten many NFL teams. Before Sunday, their lone win this season came at home against the Chicago Bears — in overtime. The same Bears team the Packers beat on the road to open their season.
Answers were scarce in the locker room. From Crosby, to Rodgers, to outside linebacker Julius Peppers, multiple players said they needed to consult the film. They appeared every bit as confused as the record 78,526 crowd watching at Lambeau Field.
“We’re still a good team,” Peppers insisted. “We’re still a good team. We’re going to win games. We’ve lost only three games this far. We’ve got lots of football left to be played, and we’re going to put the work in to try to get better.”
It was a positive way to look at Sunday’s loss, full of optimism. In reality, good teams do not lose to the Lions, especially not at home. In the past month, good teams had turned the matchup into a glorified bye week.
The Arizona Cardinals beat the Lions by 25 points. The Kansas City Chiefs won by 35. The Packers lost by 2.
It would be more convenient if the Packers could claim they simply overlooked the Lions. Certainly, next week’s game at the Minnesota Vikings loomed larger. Momentum in the NFC North will be on the line in Minnesota. On Sunday, the Packers were 11-point favorites against a team that had allowed 45, 28, 34 and 42 points in their previous four games.
Receiver James Jones wasn’t accepting that excuse.
“These games are tough,” Jones said. “These are division games. When you lose to a team that’s 1-(7), you come in here, like, ‘How in the heck can we lose to a team that’s 1-(7).’ But if you look over there, they’ve got a lot of talented players. They’ve lost a lot of close games this year. That’s a good ball club, and they came out here today and beat us. Give them their respect.
“When the Detroit Lions go back to Detroit, they get a check, too. Everybody in this league is professional, man. It takes some tough losses, man.”
Sounds good in theory. Problem is, the Lions hadn’t brought a win back to Detroit since 1991. Brett Favre never lost to the Lions at home. Neither did Mike Holmgren. On the day Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf was honored at halftime, the Packers celebrated their past.
Then they continued to flounder in their present.
Peppers insisted his team isn’t broken. Even after losing three games, the Packers have a 6-3 record. Their hot, early-season start is the only thing propping them up. If they don’t figure out answers soon, even that won’t be enough.
“We’re just going to come to work,” Peppers said. “That’s the only thing I know. We’re going to come back to work, we’re going to try to get everything corrected, and we’re going to come back and fight like hell next week. That’s the only thing we can ask for. That’s the only thing we can do.”