Aaron Nagler chatted with Packers fans during his Facebook Live chat after the Lions' 35-11 win in the season finale at Ford Field in Detroit. Aaron Nagler/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
DETROIT - If this was Dom Capers’ last stand, it ended with 35 points allowed in a blowout loss. The Detroit Lions pulled away early Sunday, scoring 17 points in the second quarter. There were blown coverages. Missed tackles. Little pass rush.
All the things that have come to brand this Green Bay Packers defense.
If Sunday was Capers’ last stand as defensive coordinator, it rained more confusion. There was Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, standing alone in the end zone. The Packers trailed by three touchdowns with seven minutes left, but they’ve put NFC North rivals to shame for years. This was their turn to experience the same humiliation.
The Lions called for a reverse pass on a 2-point conversion, receiver Golden Tate throwing to Stafford. When Stafford hauled in the third reception of his career, then turned to chuck the football into Ford Field’s second deck, the Packers' 35-11 loss was complete.
If this was the last stand for their embattled defensive coordinator, no conclusion came after the game. Before he could be asked about Capers, who likely coordinated his final game for the Packers' defense after nine seasons, coach Mike McCarthy made it clear that decision would come another day.
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“I’ll answer questions about Packers versus the Lions today, OK,” McCarthy concluded his opening postgame statement. “I get where we’re at this point of the season. I haven’t been in this position for a number of years, but I’m here to answer questions about the game. So let’s not waste each other’s time.”
There are consequences when a team that begins its season with Super Bowl aspirations fails to reach the playoffs. That the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers for eight weeks with a broken collarbone doesn’t change the need for accountability. With a healthy Rodgers last season, the Packers failed to reach the Super Bowl because their defense couldn’t keep the Atlanta Falcons out of the end zone.
A year later, the Packers entered their offseason with a 7-9 record, their first losing season since 2008.
“We know what the issue was,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said Sunday, reflecting on a wasted season. “We lost Aaron Rodgers. It’s point blank, period.”
Except Rodgers’ absence exposed problems that likely would have prevented the Packers from reaching the Super Bowl this season anyway.
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Even with a healthy Rodgers, the Packers' defense remained a liability. When improvement was demanded following the calamity of 2016, it showed none. The Packers allowed 24.3 points and 363.9 yards per game last season. They allowed 24 points and 348.8 yards per game this season.
In the coming days, McCarthy will have to decide whether his defense’s inability to improve reflects personnel or scheme.
“To me,” cornerback Davon House said, “it’s all players. That’s what I think. I mean, as a man, you have a job. … It’s our job to do the tough assignments. It’s not as hard as it seems like. If everyone is doing their job, it’s easy. There’s 10 other people out there with you.”
Said second-year defensive tackle Kenny Clark: “We need to win our one-on-ones. As a player, that’s how I see it. We’ve got to win our one-on-ones, and we’ve got to do what’s executed.”
Mike Daniels, the veteran defensive tackle, said the Packers need to get back to basics.
After games like Sunday's, fundamentals are an appropriate place to start. Time after time, the Packers’ coverage broke down. Much of Stafford’s 323 yards, three touchdowns and 140.4 rating was gifted to him by a secondary out of sorts. The quarterback had no problem finding open receivers.
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Then there was the tackling. On Kenny Golladay’s 54-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, Clinton-Dix appeared to have an angle on the Lions receiver. The Packers safety, regressing from Pro Bowler to disappointment in one season, was thwarted with a stiff arm. House, playing these final two games essentially with a broken back, couldn’t tackle Golden Tate near the end of a 71-yard touchdown in the second half.
The pass rush again was lacking. Clay Matthews had one sack, finishing his season with 8½. Mike Daniels had his fifth sack of the season, his most since 2014. Otherwise, Stafford found plenty of comfort in the pocket.
“We just have to be more exact in everything that we do,” Daniels said. “I think you can’t get more basic than that. It’s always good to get back to the basics. I think when we all do that, we’ll make the improvements, and we’ll advance in the way we’d like to.”
BOX SCORE: Lions 35, Packers 11
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Basic fundamentals reflect coaching. Confusion on the field stems from confusion on the sideline, or in the coaches box. For that, changes are likely coming at some point this week.
If this was Capers’ last stand, the Packers' defense didn’t put up much of a fight on the field. In the visitors’ locker room, players turned introspective. They supported their long-time defensive coordinator.
“He’s definitely a legend in this game,” Daniels said, “and I’m really thankful that he’s my defensive coordinator.”
Their defense came a little late.