DETROIT – If you’re Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and you’re staring at a flip card in the Ford Field press box, you should be able to circle six or seven names of proven veterans who can make a play that tilts the field and transforms what appears to be a certain loss into a season-turning victory.
These are guys who have made clutch plays in critical moments — some of them during Super Bowls — and are there to bail you out when maybe the rest of the team or some of those other game-changers just aren’t making it happen.
Gutekunst, who assembled a third of this roster on his own and the rest as an adviser to former general manager Ted Thompson, has been looking to add difference-makers to the Packers, but should have been able to find at least one or two capable of crushing the hopes of a 1-3 Detroit Lions team.
On his entire 53-man roster, only one — receiver Davante Adams — provided the material worthy of a difference-maker. Playing on an injured calf, he caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, and had he held onto a circus catch at the 1-yard line with 4 minutes left (the play was overturned on review), he might have flipped the game entirely on his own.
Instead, the Packers got what they deserved, a crushing 31-23 loss to NFC North rival Detroit, and that’s being kind given they trailed 24-0 at halftime and probably deserved to lose by much more.
Sure, blame the loss on kicker Mason Crosby’s four missed field goals and an extra point, but every specialist goes through a crummy day, and there are more than enough so-called stars on the team to tell him, "Don’t worry, we’ve got this."
And sure, receivers Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Geronimo Allison (concussion) and cornerback Jaire Alexander (groin) were not active. But there were more than enough guys available to make a difference.
Let’s go through the list:
Aaron Rodgers: He completed 32 of 52 passes for 442 yards and three touchdowns for an impressive 108.0 passer rating. But he was 9 of 19 for 141 yards (72.0 rating) in the first half and lost two fumbles on sacks in which he left the pocket seeking more than what was given.
Rodgers continued a trend of missing some easy completions with wild throws and did not see some open receivers when he had them.
“We have to play better, myself included,” Rodgers said. “I’ve got to start faster like we’ve done over the years. Maybe if we can get going as an offense I can start faster, play a little better early on and give us a little momentum.”
Even after the Adams incompletion, Rodgers had another chance on third and 10, but he tried to catch the Lions with 12 men on the field and should have abandoned it when he saw it wasn’t going to be close. Instead, he took the snap while others on offense were still moving and the penalty negated a 14-yard completion to tight end Jimmy Graham.
“We have to make the plays throughout the game, not just in crunch time,” Rodgers said. “And I’ve got to play better from the start. And I expect to and I will and we’ve got to give our defense some more help.”
Jimmy Graham: The guy the Packers thought they were getting is not the Graham they’ve seen so far. He doesn’t run near as well as he used to and his footwork on a back-shoulder throw in the end zone Rodgers laid out a little too far behind him was shockingly uncoordinated.
He did not look like the guy who once scored 16 touchdowns in a season and regularly could outmaneuver and outjump anyone covering him. He caught six passes for 76 yards, but it took 11 targets to reach those numbers.
And so far, he has one touchdown.
The Packers needed him badly on a 2-point conversion with just over a minute left in the third quarter and the score 24-14. He was made for those kinds of opportunities, but he was not on Rodgers’ radar and the pass to rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped incomplete.
Clay Matthews and Nick Perry: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford attempted only 26 passes. He was sacked three times, two of them by inside linebacker Blake Martinez and one by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The latter was forced by a good rush from defensive tackle Dean Lowry.
The two outside linebackers are among the top eight highest-paid players at their position and neither one of them knocked Stafford down or swatted away one of his passes. Matthews had one assisted tackle and Perry had two solo tackles and one assist.
The second half begged for one of them to hit Stafford and either force a fumble or interception or sack him on a key third down. Anything to help the offense, which had found some life in the second half, to get the ball back. Even in his last couple years with the Packers, you could count on Julius Peppers to make a couple of those plays.
Through five games the two have combined for two sacks.
Mike Daniels: The Packers did a decent job keeping the Lions running game in check. Take away Kerryon Johnson’s 24-yard run, which was the result of Perry not holding contain, and the Lions' backs rushed 23 times for 68 yards and two short touchdowns. Daniels deserves some of the credit for that.
But Daniels, like Matthews and Perry, makes the big money because he can affect the quarterback and while he did have one quarterback hit, he failed to cause a fumble or sack Stafford. He also had a bad offside penalty — along with nose tackle Kenny Clark — that helped keep a late third-quarter Lions drive going.
Daniels has one sack in five games.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kevin King: Neither are close to being the highest-paid at their positions, but both are top picks expected to be fixtures in the secondary for years to come. Last week, Clinton-Dix had a terrific interception against the Bills, but on Sunday he had two tackles, no passes broken up and a sack.
He may have been involved in at least one of the touchdowns the Lions scored on passes inside the 10-yard line, both with King also in coverage. Clinton-Dix wasn’t specific on what happened on the two touchdowns and King had gotten his chin stepped on and was having trouble talking after the game.
The two are supposed to be teaming together to make the secondary hard to score on, but instead they’ve been involved together on two or maybe three touchdown receptions. King has the excuse of being rusty after missing the past two games with a groin injury, but injury has been far too common with him.
Had the Packers held the Lions to field goals on either of those touchdown plays, the game might have been different. Or had they picked Stafford off even once, maybe it would have been different.
“Something, man,” Clinton-Dix said. “We were trying to get something going, trying to create a turnover on defense. (Defensive coordinator) Mike Pettine was trying to send as much pressure as we can, and make a play on the ball, and you know get things going on defense and get a turnover.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t do that today as a defense and we let ourselves down.”
They didn’t do it on offense or special teams, either. Aside from the offensive line, running backs and Martinez, this team isn’t near as good as it’s supposed to be on the flip card.