Packers seek answers after stunning loss
The Green Bay Packers apparently hadn’t hit bottom, after all.
No, the Packers saved their worst performance of the season — and perhaps of Mike McCarthy’s 10 years as head coach — for Sunday against the lowly Detroit Lions, whose 18-16 victory in front of 78,526 at Lambeau Field marked their first victory over Green Bay in the state of Wisconsin in 24 years.
The Packers’ back-to-back losses to frontrunners Denver (29-10) and Carolina (37-29) over the past two weeks were frustrating, but palatable given the pedigree of both teams. The Lions, fresh off firing team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew, appeared lost before their bye week.
Detroit (2-7) did little to dispel that notion Sunday, giving Green Bay every opportunity to win the game due to its largely inept offense, a pair of Matt Prater missed extra points and Calvin Johnson’s botched onside kick recovery in the final minute. However, the Packers couldn’t stop tripping over themselves.
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Like last week against Carolina, the Packers (6-3) used timely stops and schoolyard heroics to give themselves a chance to win the game late, but failed to convert a two-point conversion that would have tied the game after tight end Justin Perillo’s 11-yard touchdown catch with 32 seconds remaining.
Mason Crosby gave them another shot with a successful onside kick, but then squibbed what would have been a game-winning field goal from 52 yards. It sent the Packers to their third consecutive loss and ended more than two decades of dominance over their NFC North rival.
“You know it’s disappointing,” said Rodgers, who attempted a career-high 61 passes. “We didn't have a ton of terrible drives. We just didn't convert enough. We missed some opportunities and that’s what happens. They have good players on their side. We had some opportunities, I missed some throws and we missed some opportunities to convert and put some more points on the board. We needed 19 points to win today. You would expect us at home to score 19.”
With running back Eddie Lacy (groin) missing his second career game, the Packers came out passing on the first series of the game and looked to turn up the tempo with a series of short passes and screens. It worked for the most part with Crosby’s field goal ending a 12-play, 57-yard series.
The Packers’ defense held Detroit to only six first downs and 102 total yards in the first half, but their offense didn’t fare much better. The Packers recorded as many first downs (four) on their first series as they did the remainder of the half.
The inefficiency finally caught up to them when Detroit forced the Packers to go three-and-out from their own 5 with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half. It afforded the Lions, who still had two timeouts, just enough time to set up Prater for a 49-yard field goal to tie the game 3-3 entering halftime.
The Packers’ offense didn’t get back into rhythm until the fourth quarter. Tim Masthay, who’s on pace for a career high in punts this season, punted on nine consecutive possessions after never punting more than eight times in a game during his first six NFL seasons.
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Unable to establish the run — 18 carries for 47 yards — the Packers were only 3-of-9 on third downs in the first half.
“Something we talk about all the time is our tempo,” right guard Josh Sitton said. “When we’re doing that, our tempo’s very high. Throughout most of the game, our tempo was not very good. I don’t know what it was — whether the play was slow coming in, whether we’re trying to sub in and out or the refs not spotting the ball quick. There’s a lot of things.
“I think when we can push the tempo, it doesn’t allow them to make calls and run what they want to run. We dictate the down when we’re running at that tempo. We’ve got to be able to get back to that.”
The Packers’ special-teams unit, which had been stout, gave up a 104-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter to Lions returner Ameer Abdullah, who returned it to the Green Bay 1. Two plays later, Matthew Stafford threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who came free after outside linebacker Julius Peppers slipped.
The Packers’ defense held Detroit to only 287 yards, though it didn’t record a sack for the third consecutive game. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix provided a spark with a diving interception of Matthew Stafford in the third quarter inside the Packers’ red zone. The offense responded with another three-and-out.
Green Bay’s defense had a chance to stop the Lions late, but gave up its biggest play on a 43-yard pass to Golden Tate after missed tackles from Morgan Burnett and Sam Shields. After Lance Moore's 4-yard touchdown reception, Prater left the door open for the Packers when he missed the extra point, leaving the score 18-10 with two minutes left.
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The Packers' offense managed some semblance of rhythm with an 11-play, 78-yard drive before Moore's score. Richard Rodgers' 2-yard touchdown was set up by a 20-yard pass to Randall Cobb on third-and-12 and then a 32-yard pass to fourth-string receiver Jared Abbrederis.
Perillo, a former undrafted free agent, became the unsung hero for the offense with four catches for 52 yards coming in the second half, including his 11-yard touchdown through traffic to cut the deficit to 18-16. Rodgers tried to hit Davante Adams on a fade on the two-point conversion, but the second-year receiver couldn’t bring it in.
“We’re not making plays, man,” said receiver James Jones, who was held without a catch. “Any offense you go to, any offense that’s at the top of the league right now, they’ve got players making plays. Our whole wide receiver group, I speak for all of us, we’re not making enough plays. That’s how it’s going.”
Rookie cornerback Damarious Randall breathed life into the Packers when he recovered Johnson’s fumbled onside kick, though the Packers failed to capitalize with Crosby’s 52-yard attempt falling flat as time expired.
Green Bay now sits second in the NFC North after Minnesota’s 30-14 win at Oakland.
Afterward, McCarthy said he doesn’t intend to resume play-calling duties, while Rodgers defended the offensive operation under first-year play-caller Tom Clements. Still, there was no disguising the fact the Packers’ 24-year-old winning streak ended against one of the worst Lions teams they’ve faced in that span.
Once again, the Packers and their struggling offense were left scrambling for answers.
“I think you always have sequences of games in seasons that you can look back on where one phase isn't playing as well as the other. I think we're in that right now,” McCarthy said. “We just need to keep working and fight our way out of it.”
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