GREEN BAY – This is the opposite of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. The Detroit Lions, with their eight fourth-quarter comebacks this season, are the irresistible force.
In the fourth quarter, the Green Bay Packers defense has very much been a movable object.
Even if the Packers defense didn’t have its own issues, the Lions provide plenty of reason for concern in late-game situations. They have trailed in the fourth quarter of every game this season except one, yet have nine wins.
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Quarterback Matthew Stafford set a single-season NFL record directing eight fourth-quarter comebacks.
“You can never relax,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
Capers saw the Lions’ comeback ability firsthand in September. Though the Packers won their Week 3 game, they saw their 31-3 lead late in the first half almost evaporate.
Stafford found Lions receiver Marvin Jones for a 73-yard touchdown before halftime, cutting the Packers lead to 31-10. Still a comfortable margin. Then the Lions opened the second half with a touchdown drive followed by a field goal, ultimately pulling within a possession with a late touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"It's a totally different game,” Capers said. “You know they have quick-strike ability. They’ve got a lot of playmakers, and they’ve got a quarterback that’s experienced and having an outstanding year. They’ve been very good in two-minute situations. The statistics speak for themselves in terms of the fourth quarter.”
The statistics speak both ways.
Through 15 games, fourth quarters have been volatile for the Packers defense. In Atlanta, they gave up a game-winning drive. In Washington, they coughed up a trio of 50-yard plays. In Chicago, they saw a 17-point lead become a tied game.
The Packers rank 26th in the NFL allowing 7.5 points per game in the fourth quarter. It has been opponents’ highest-scoring quarter against the Packers this season, almost 3.5 points more than average third-quarter scoring.
There is a good chance the Packers will lead at some point in the fourth quarter Sunday, considering the Lions track record. What their defense does with that lead will dictate whether the Packers clinch the NFC North. Playing offenses that rank 28th and 26th in scoring, respectively, the Packers have allowed a combined 29 points in their past two fourth quarters against the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.
The Lions “quick-strike ability” will make things difficult for Capers. While the Packers prevent defense hasn’t prevented much of anything, it’s at least made opponents “go the long way,” as Capers explained earlier this week. It could be the right tactic to use against the Lions, even if it ultimately allows points.
Either way, the Packers defense can’t afford to be a movable object in the fourth quarter Sunday.
“You’ve got to be ready to play for 60 minutes,” Capers said. “No matter what the situation is, you can’t ever relax. We’ve experienced that the last couple weeks. We’ve come out and played as good a third quarter two games in a row, and then the fourth quarter we haven’t played well.”
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