GREEN BAY - In a game that was twice as lopsided as the final score, consider the first and last third-down conversions by the Detroit Lions as embarrassing bookends for the rash of ineptitude disguised as the Green Bay Packers’ defense.
The evening for defensive coordinator Dom Capers had begun swimmingly after tackles for loss on the first two plays, thrusting the Lions into third and 14. Life seemed swell when a pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford landed out of bounds incomplete.
Until, of course, the emotional leader of the defense, Mike Daniels, lost his mind and head-butted center Travis Swanson to keep the drive alive. Stafford lofted a beautiful throw to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. for a 25-yard touchdown six plays later.
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The evening flat-lined three hours later when Stafford, nursing a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter, drilled a 23-yard slant to wideout Golden Tate when the Lions needed only 2. So demoralized was cornerback Davon House, who found himself in coverage on the play, that he could do little more than throw his hands to the heavens for help that never would arrive. His Packers were pummeled, 30-17.
“They totally controlled the third-down battle tonight,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
A third consecutive loss for the Packers did nothing to quell growing concerns about the defense’s woeful performance on third down. The Lions, who entered the game 21st in the league in third-down conversions, moved the chains on eight of their 13 attempts en route to 417 yards of total offense. Six of the conversions came on third and 5 or longer; three were in excess of third and 10.
All of that on the heels of another demolition by the New Orleans Saints two weeks prior, before the bye week, when the Packers’ defense failed on eight of 15 third downs.
“We just (soiled) the bed,” cornerback Damarious Randall said. “Point blank. Period. There’s no other way around it.”
The rest of the implosion — in between Daniels’ meltdown and House’s appeal to a higher order — looked like this:
Third and 10 from the DET 29-yard line: Stafford rolls to his right and fires deep down the middle of the field to Jones, who broke free against rookie safety Josh Jones for a pickup of 16 yards. Jones had played almost exclusively at inside linebacker this season but was shifted to safety after the Packers placed Kentrell Brice (ankle) on injured reserve last week.
Third and 3 from the DET 27-yard line: Stafford rolls to his right again and zings a perfect back-shoulder throw to Tate, who taps both toes along the sideline for a 17-yard gain. The coverage by Randall was good; the throw from Stafford was better.
“He threw a lot of balls that last time we played them we would have gotten hands on the ball,” House said. “But this time he was more like Aaron (Rodgers)-like, where he threw it only where his receivers could catch it.”
Third and 3 from the GB 39-yard line: Four plays later, rookie cornerback Kevin King rolled the dice with a diving attempt to deflect a pass rifled toward the left sideline. He came up empty, and Tate turned upfield for another 15 yards. The Lions punctuated the drive with a touchdown by tailback Ameer Abdullah.
Third and 5 from the GB 40-yard line: The trend carried into the second half as the Lions, who led 14-3 at the break, turned their opening possession into a 44-yard field goal by kicker Matt Prater. Stafford extended the drive with a bullet throw to Tate along the right side, moving the chains with House in tight coverage. Stafford completed 26 of 33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford's passer rating of 132.4 was his highest mark this season.
“It’s annoying,” nose tackle Kenny Clark said. “It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. Whenever you do a good job on first and second down and then they’re able to get a first down, that’s just annoying.”
Third and 7 from the GB 44-yard line: With the Packers in their nitro defense, Capers dialed up a blitz to bring Randall from his nickel corner position and Morgan Burnett from an inside linebacker spot. But Stafford, who was sacked only once, hardly seemed to notice. He tossed an easy completion to wide receiver TJ Jones along the left sideline for 17 yards. The nearest defender was several yards away.
Third and 10 from the GB 38-yard line: And then the Lions pulled a trick by converting the same third down twice on a drive that ended with another field goal. First, they deflated the crowd with a back-shoulder pass from Stafford to Jones, slicing into the red zone for a 23-yard gain. Then they declined a penalty on King that would have moved the chains regardless. Jones finished with seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. A year ago he caught six passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns when the Lions visited Lambeau Field.
“We’ve just got to get up off the field on third down,” Randall said. That’s the name of the game: get off the field. And that’s something we weren’t able to do tonight.
“It was just a lack of coverage, a lack of pass rush, a lack of everything. They just flat out played better tonight. Period.”