Green Bay, Wis. – It wasn't enough the Lions were trying to overcome 21 years of futility in the state of Wisconsin. It wasn't enough that the schedule-makers had given the Packers a full bye week to heal and prepare for this game.
But to make a daunting task nearly impossible, the Lions had to play at Lambeau Field Sunday without Calvin Johnson, the catalyst of the entire offense, who was held out because of lingering soreness in his left knee.
Despite a valiant effort by the defense, the result was predictable. Led by a team-record-tying five field goals from Mason Crosby, the Packers extended their league-best home winning streak against the Lions to 23 with a 22-9 victory.
"We can't make excuses," said running back Reggie Bush, who probably felt the effects of Johnson's absence more than most. "Whether a guy plays or not, we still have to find a way to get it done. I have to do a better job of running the ball. I didn't play very well today."
With Johnson out, the Packers didn't double team a single receiver. The Lions probably saw more single-safety coverage than they have in two seasons. The Packers kept an extra defender in the box for most of the game and kept steady pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford.
"That's the way the NFL works," said Stafford, who completed 25 of 40 passes for 262 yards and was sacked five times. "That is a good defensive front. They drafted a lot of guys in the first and second rounds to put pressure and rush the quarterback. And they were doing a good job on the back end and I had to hold onto the ball a little bit."
Bush managed just 44 yards rushing and 25 receiving. He had five carries for zero or negative yards. Packers receiver Randall Cobb outrushed the entire Lions team with one 67-yard carry in the third quarter.
It was the first time this season the Lions offense didn't control the line of scrimmage.
"It was unusual," left guard Rob Sims said. "They played a lot of different guys – B.J. Raji, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett – they kept pressure on us. That's some big boys but we pride ourselves on keeping (Stafford) clean and we couldn't.
"We'll go watch the film and they'll say it's not just the offensive line, but for us it is."
Crosby made good from 26, 52, 31, 42 and 45. As center Dominic Raiola said, "If you told us our defense would hold the Packers to five field goals and a touchdown, we'd take it all day. Our defense played their butts off."
It was a 9-3 game for the better part of three quarters. The defense, despite being on the field of long stretches, remained stingy.
"It was a good situation for us," safety Glover Quin said. "I thought we played a good game. We executed the game plan until the end of the third quarter. But obviously, in a situation like this, we have to hold them to less."
The Packers, not known for the ground game, amassed 180 yards rushing (5.5 per carry) with rookie Eddie Lacy doing most of the work (99 yards in 23 carries). That made things much easier for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who comfortably completed 20 of 30 passes for 274 yards.
But they only got it into the end zone once, and it came on one of the few defensive breakdowns by the Lions.
On a second-and-15 play with 3:12 left in the third quarter, Rodgers connected with receiver Jason Jones on an 83-yard touchdown. The Lions were in two-deep coverage and the safety, Louis Delmas, was nowhere to be seen on the play.
"We were in cover-two, I got my jam, my sink, and he kept on going and I didn't see nobody over the top," cornerback Chris Houston said. "I was like, 'Oh, what?' That's not something they did. That's something that's on us."
It was the killing blow. Without Johnson, the hamstrung offense didn't have enough ammunition to overcome what was then a two-score deficit.
"It's a long season and you have to be able to persevere through a lot of ups and downs," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We had some today. We will bounce back from it."
Schwartz said he knew all week there was a possibility Johnson wouldn't play. He said he had game plans prepared for Johnson playing a little, a lot or not at all.
"There are 46 guys on the field and everybody has a spot, everybody has a role and you are not going to have them all for every game," Schwartz said. "I am not going to make excuses for who plays and who doesn't. We still have to get the job done and we didn't get it done.
"With or without Calvin, that was the story; not us being without Calvin."