December 10, 2012 at 3:00 am

Chris McCosky

Chris McCosky's Four Downs: Streaky Matthew Stafford goes cold in second half

First down

The Lions offense was so masterful in the first three possessions Sunday, it had to be what offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has envisioned all season.

They had 117 yards rushing in the first half, with Mikel Leshoure (43) and Joique Bell (40) trading punches with a reeling Packers defense.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford complemented that by hitting 13 of 16 passes for 114 yards, to six different receivers.

Linehan was mixing plays wonderfully. A reverse to Mike Thomas for 22 yards. A gutsy but well-conceived naked bootleg run by Stafford for a 4-yard score — on fourth down.

It was all working, then it stopped.

The Lions had just 18 yards rushing in the second half. Stafford went cold, 14 for 29. The offense stagnated. The game was lost.

"They made a concerted effort to stop the run," coach Jim Schwartz said. "They were bringing more run blitzes and packing the line of scrimmage. There was a time, too, where it was difficult to throw the ball outside because of the wind, but no excuses.

"They changed their plan and we didn't take advantage of our chances in the passing game."

This is the next step in Stafford's evolution. He is still slow at times to adapt to changing defenses. There were times when Calvin Johnson was getting single coverage and Stafford never looked at him.

Right now, Stafford is like a streak shooter in basketball. If he's hot, he's unstoppable. When he's not, he hasn't figured out how to reignite quickly.

"We have a lot of confidence in Matt," Schwartz said. "Matt's going to lead us to great things and lead us to a lot of wins."

Second down

It is befuddling to think the Packers' fired a dagger through the Lions' hearts Sunday without Aaron Rodgers even throwing a single pass. Seven straight running plays, by three unheralded backs — Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and recently signed Ryan Grant — netted 59 yards. Harris got the last 14 and the go-ahead touchdown untouched.

Just as befuddling was to hear linebacker DeAndre Levy say it was part of the plan — that they'd rather take their chances with the running game than with Rodgers' arm.

"It's something we've got to get a feel for and play better," Levy said. "That was kind of our plan. If they wanted to run the ball, then they would be taking it out of the hands of their best player — Rodgers. That was kind of the plan in the first game and they averaged liked three yards a carry.

"We just didn't get a feel for it early enough. We kept light boxes in. With Rodgers, you don't want to put eight people in the box."

Rodgers was struggling to get his passes off. The Lions sacked him three times and hit him five times. He only completed 14 passes for 173 yards.

It's like the Packers beat the Lions using their second- and third-best pitches.

Third down

It certainly didn't help the Lions' offense when tight end Brandon Pettigrew went down with an ankle injury in the second series of the game.

"Stuff happens within a game but Brandon was certainly a key part of our game plan," Schwartz said. "We had to do some adjusting when he went out."

The Lions were already without receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young. Kris Durham, just signed off the practice squad, started opposite Calvin Johnson. Tony Scheffler was supposed to play in the slot.

When Pettigrew went out, Will Heller stepped up and caught four passes for 21 yards. Scheffler was thrown to 10 times but only had three catches.

Durham was thrown to nine times and he caught four for 54 yards. He and Stafford had a miscommunication on an interception in the second quarter.

Stafford said he made the improper read.

Pettigrew's absence contributed to the slow, gradual crumbling of the passing game in the second half.

Fourth down

Tying up some loose ends:

Calvin Johnson had his steak of 125-yard receiving games end at five. He had 10 catches for 118 yards and he has gone over 1,500 yards for the second straight year. He joins Andre Johnson and Marvin Harrison as the only receivers in NFL history to have consecutive 1,500-yard seasons.

Cornerback Drayton Florence was out of the mix Sunday. Rookie Jonte Green was used in the Lions' nickel packages. Florence was beaten on a pivotal deep pass last week.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley was a force. He had four tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. He also forced a fumble. On one of his sacks, he bull-rushed Evan Dietrich-Smith right into and on top of Rodgers.

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

twitter.com/cmccosky

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, right, meet on the field after the Lions' loss. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News
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