Lions 35, Packers 11: Five takeaways from season-ending loss
If Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions proves to be the final game for Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the on-field product was an accurate summation of why a change needs to be made.
In a game that didn’t matter for either team, the Lions blasted the Packers 35-11, as quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns to shred a dismal secondary one last time. Three receivers had at least 80 yards and a score for the Lions, with veteran Golden Tate’s seven catches for 104 yards leading the way.
The same issues that plagued the Packers’ defense all season resurfaced at a tepid Ford Field. There was a blown coverage by rookie safety Josh Jones for a 56-yard bomb down the middle of the field. There was poor effort and poor tackling from safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was stiff-armed out of the way by Kenny Golladay for a 54-yard touchdown. And there was a complete lack of awareness by cornerback Josh Hawkins, who yielded an easy touchdown on a fade route to Marvin Jones Jr., a nemesis for the Packers in each of the last two years.
Coach Mike McCarthy is expected to part ways with Capers as early as Monday, and this latest obliteration was proof positive of the need for fresh blood.
BOX SCORE: Lions 35, Packers 11
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Here are five takeaways from the game:
Stunted growth: From the moment quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken right collarbone, McCarthy expressed his unwavering confidence in backup Brett Hundley. It was exactly the kind of thing a coach should say to preserve the psyche of a young quarterback. Unfortunately for the Packers, it was also woefully misguided. Hundley played as poorly in the regular-season finale as he did in the two months prior. His passes were inaccurate, his decision making was subpar and his ball security was downright horrible. Hundley turned the ball over three times Sunday (two interceptions, one lost fumble) and finished with a passer rating of 59.7, his fifth game with a sub-60 rating. He completed 14 of 24 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. Eventually, with the Packers trailing by 24 in the fourth quarter, McCarthy swallowed his pride and replaced Hundley with Joe Callahan for the final series. Callahan completed 5 of 7 passes for 11 yards.
Good, bad and ugly: When the Packers traveled to Cleveland a few weeks ago, McCarthy and special teams coordinator Ron Zook mixed ingenuity with desperation by executing a successful fake punt on the first possession of the game. They upped the ante against the Lions by calling for an onside kick to open the game. Kicker Mason Crosby delivered a beautiful high bounce, and safety Jermaine Whitehead boxed out the Lions for a leaping recovery. That was the good news on special teams. The bad news on special teams was a horrendous mistake by cornerback Donatello Brown, who was blocking for returner Trevor Davis on a punt in the second quarter. Brown gave so much ground that he impeded Davis’ ability to catch the punt, and the ball bounced off his helmet for a recovery by the Lions. Two plays later, Stafford connected with Jones on a fade route over the top of Hawkins for a score. It was Jones’ fifth touchdown reception against the Packers in the last two years.
Youth movement: With numerous starters on the inactive list, the Packers were afforded plenty of opportunities to mix in their younger players in a meaningless game. Wide receiver Michael Clark (one catch for 5 yards, two drops), outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert (one tackle) and cornerback Lenzy Pipkins (five tackles, one pass defensed) earned significant playing time for the second consecutive week, with Pipkins starting opposite veteran Davon House in the base defense. McCarthy and running backs coach Ben Sirmans had hoped to find more carries for rookie Devante Mays, who fumbled on the first two carries of his career against the Baltimore Ravens earlier this year. But Mays exited the game with a shoulder injury in the first half and returned only for the final few minutes. He carried once for 2 yards and caught three passes for zero yards. Wide receivers Trevor Davis (three catches, 56 yards) and Jeff Janis (one catch, zero yards) also played significant snaps following a finger injury to Geronimo Allison, who exited the game in the first quarter but eventually returned. Tight end Emanuel Byrd, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier this week, had a 29-yard catch and run for the first reception of his career.
Workhorse: The Packers entered the game with only two healthy running backs after rookie Aaron Jones (knee) ended the year on the inactive list. Once again, Jamaal Williams shouldered an impressive amount of responsibility and proved to be very productive. With Hundley as erratic an ineffective as ever, it was Williams who proved to be the most reliable option on offense. He pummeled his way to 82 yards on 22 carries against a defense that stacked the box repeatedly with no need to respect Hundley’s arm. Williams also caught three passes for 31 yards and was terrific in pass protection all afternoon. Of the Packers’ 256 total yards, Williams accounted for 44 percent of them. His only warts were a pair of drops, one of which resulted in a tipped-ball interception for the Lions. Williams ultimately dropped out of the game with an injury in the fourth quarter. Mays and wide receiver Randall Cobb had one carry each.
Hands team: For a team whose skill players were sure-handed for most of the season, the Packers have had serious issues with dropped passes in recent weeks. The problems began early on a poorly thrown slant by Hundley, who placed a ball behind Williams. While the pass still should have been caught, Williams had to reach back for the football and bobbled it twice before linebacker Jarrad Davis scooped it up for an interception. The drops spread like an epidemic from there. Clark, the former basketball player, saw two passes clang off his hands for incompletions, one of which would have given the Packers a first down. Williams dropped another pass, his second of the day. And veteran Cobb joined the party in the third quarter with an inexcusable mistake on a crossing route.