Lions leave loss at Lambeau, look ahead to Cowboys
Green Bay, Wis. — Matthew Stafford was inaccurate, completing less than 50 percent of his passes. The Lions' top-ranked run defense allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time, and the pass defense didn't sack a hobbled Aaron Rodgers. The marred special teams unit allowed a punt return touchdown.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had yet another incident that might draw the ire from the league, and the Lions benched strong safety James Ihedigbo, who had been playing at close to a Pro Bowl level. Right guard Larry Warford exited in the second quarter with what appears to be a serious knee injury.
Yet, despite all the problems the Lions had Sunday in a 30-20 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, they can quickly move on knowing they'll be playing a postseason game in Dallas next week.
"We've got more football to play," left guard Rob Sims said. "Usually, we walk out of here with a loss, that's it, and we're talking about tomorrow's exit meetings. We're not talking that right now. We've got shots, so I'm going to go take mine."
The Lions (11-5) secured the No. 6 seed in the NFC with the loss and will travel to third-seeded Dallas (12-4) 4:40 p.m. Sunday , and try to win their second playoff game since 1957 and first since 1991. Against the Cowboys, the Lions will see former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, the playcaller for the explosive offensive, and former head coach Rod Marinelli, Dallas' defensive coordinator.
One question that will persist Monday, though, is whether or not Suh will be available for the game after stepping on Rodgers' injured calf twice with his left foot after a fourth-quarter play.
The Packers (12-4) clinched the No. 2 seed and kept the Lions winless in Wisconsin since 1991. They also had a gutsy performance from Rodgers, who exited in the second quarter with a calf injury only to return mid-way through the third quarter and throw two more touchdowns after the Lions tied the game at 14-14.
The Lions' vaunted defense had a couple bright spots and forced two turnovers, but Rodgers was too precise and running back Eddie Lacy was too strong, finishing with 26 carries for 100 yards. Rodgers finished 17 of 22 for 226 yards and two touchdowns, both to Randall Cobb.
Stafford, meanwhile, was inaccurate all game and finished 20 of 41 for 217 yards and three touchdowns, two to Calvin Johnson. The highlight offensively was Joique Bell's 11 carries for 58 yards in the first half, but he had just two carries in the second half as the Lions were outgained 377 to 313 with the offense squandering multiple scoring opportunities.
"Not frustrated right now because we've still got a chance to get things moving in the right direction in the playoffs," Johnson said.
The Lions defense had an impressive stand on Green Bay's first drive. The Packers had first and goal at the 7, and after two stops, a pass interference on Ihedigbo gave them a first down at the 1. However, the Lions stayed strong for four plays and stopped Green Bay on fourth-and-goal at the 1 by stuffing Lacy at the line of scrimmage.
The defensive stand seemingly gave the Lions a bit of early momentum, but the offense stalled after one play. And the game quickly shifted in the Packers' favor.
Sam Martin hit a 45-yard punt that Micah Hyde caught at the Green Bay 45, and after making Jed Collins and another Lions player miss, Hyde ran for a 55-yard touchdown to give the Packers a 7-0 lead with 4:49 left in the first quarter.
The Lions moved the ball well on the ensuing possession and reached the Green Bay 36, but had to punt.
Starting their next drive on the 6, the Packers escaped their own end zone with a 12-yard, third-down pass from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson in which he forced a missed tackle by Ihedigbo. Green Bay drove to the Detroit 26, but once again, the Lions defense came up with a huge play as Ihedigbo forced a fumble by Lacy and defensive end George Johnson recovered.
Once again, the Lions offense moved the ball, but couldn't score. The Lions reached the Green Bay 31, but on fourth-and-10, Stafford threw a pass way over Golden Tate's head.
The Packers took advantage of the misstep by the Lions. Rodgers hit Cobb for a 34-yard gain to move them to goal-to-go. After a defensive holding on Glover Quin, Rodgers threw to Cobb for a 4-yard touchdown to give Green Bay a 14-0 lead with 2:24 left in the first half.
But the scoring play was secondary for the Packers as Rodgers aggravated his left calf injury before completing the pass. He lay on the ground briefly and needed two trainers to help him walk to the sideline before a cart took him to the locker room.
Forced to play up-tempo, the Lions offense finally broke through with a 2-minute, 77-yard scoring drive capped by a 20-yard pass to Johnson, cutting the deficit to 14-7.
Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn took the one snap on the final drive of the first half, and with Rodgers appearing to be out for the rest of the game, the game appeared to shift into the Lions' favor.
"It really didn't matter to us," linebacker Tahir Whitehead said of the quarterback change. "We know what we had to do was go out there and play."
The Lions forced a three-and-out on the first drive of the third quarter with Flynn at quarterback, and the Lions offense once again looked in rhythm as they finished an 11-play drive with a perfect, lofted 4-yard pass to Johnson. With 7:34 left in the third quarter, it was suddenly tied, 14-14.
But as the Lions were driving, Rodgers emerged from the tunnel and threw passes to Nelson along the sideline. And sure enough, he took the field for the Packers' next drive. And sure enough, he led another touchdown drive with a 13-yard strike to Cobb to put the Packers up 21-14 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
Stafford threw three straight incompletions on the next drive, and the Packers drove into Lions territory only to have Isa Abdul-Quddus block a 52-yard field-goal attempt by Mason Crosby. But the special teams highlight mattered not for the Lions as Matthew Stafford fumbled a handoff to Joique Bell on the first play of the ensuing drive.
Starting with the Lions at the Detroit 42, the Packers ran 4:43 seconds off with their next drive and scored on a 1-yard run by Rodgers, whose quarterback sneak put the Packers comfortably ahead 28-14 with 8:45 left in the fourth quarter.
An intentional grounding in the end zone on Stafford put the Packers up 30-14 with 2:30 left, but the Lions recovered the free kick and scored another touchdown, a 6-yard pass to Theo Riddick, with 1:45 left. Bell was stopped short on the 2-point conversion to make it a 30-20 final.
"I told our guys after they get out of that shower when they get finished, 'Hey, we've got to look forward. We're not going to look behind,'" said coach Jim Caldwell, whose most notable incident was a baffling challenge of a fumble in which Lacy was on the ground. "We don't have to address any issues and talk about this particular game. It's over with. It's done.
"They played well enough to give us a chance to get into a new season and this new season is win or go home. It's a new day."