The streak is over! Lions finally win in Green Bay
Green Bay, Wis. — The Lions said they didn’t talk about the embarrassing streak much in the days leading up to Sunday’s game against the Packers.
Some of the players weren’t born the last time the Lions won at Lambeau Field in 1991, so it’d be unfair for them to carry the weight of the past failures.
And even though Jim Caldwell is in just his second season coaching the Lions, he knows the importance of what the Lions accomplished Sunday because fans frequently remind him when he’s in Detroit.
“Everybody talks about going to Lambeau Field and getting a victory, and because of the fact it’s been something that’s just carried on for a number of years,” Caldwell said. “So, we were certainly happy to come in here and play well — well enough to win.”
After an 18-16 Lions victory that came down to the final play, the streak is over.
Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby missed a 52-yard field goal as time expired, and after an incredibly disappointing first half of the 2015 season, the Lions (2-7) started the second half with a shocking victory that ended a 24-game losing streak in Wisconsin.
The Lions entered the rivalry game a little more than a week after firing their top two executives, general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand. Caldwell praised the players for maintaining their focus amid the turmoil.
“I think guys did a lot of self-evaluation on that bye week,” defensive end Darryl Tapp said. “We understood the situation we were in, coming in not playing to our potential every week, and guys took it personal.”
Though the Lions almost certainly will end the season with a losing record, beating the Packers (6-3) provided some relief as well as affirmation that the coaches and players are on the right track.
And it was an emotional experience for the two longest-tenured Lions players, long snapper Don Muhlbach and wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
“I think he might’ve been close to shedding a tear,” Johnson said of Muhlbach. “He almost made me feel the same kind of way.”
It was an ugly game marred by drops, inaccurate passing and poor rushing, but thanks to an outstanding effort by the defense, the Lions pulled out the victory.
The Lions defense forced nine punts, taking advantage of a surprisingly poor game by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who finished 35-of-61 for 333 yards with two touchdowns.
Matthew Stafford was 24-of-38 for 242 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Lions. Johnson had six catches for 81 yards, but would’ve been one of the goats had the Lions lost as he dropped the onside kick that gave Green Bay one final possession with 31 seconds left.
Instead, the Lions can look to highlights such as two third-down conversions on a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that made it exponentially harder for the Packers to recover.
Yes, kicker Matt Prater missed two extra points, including one after that touchdown catch by Lance Moore with 1:57 remaining. Yes, Stafford threw an interception late in the third quarter that likely cost the Lions points. But in this stadium after this start to the season, the highlights — like a 104-yard kickoff return by Ameer Abdullah and a game-saving pass break-up by cornerback Crezdon Butler, whom the team signed Saturday — shine brighter than those errors.
“It’s not easy being 1-7, but we knew we had an opportunity to come out here and play, and I bet nobody gave us a chance,” Stafford said. “But that’s the way we like it. We don’t really care who gives a chance because we feel good about ourselves in that locker room and we know what we’re about.”
The Lions offense was listless to start the game -- a consistent problem this season. The unit had just 102 yards and was 0-for-7 on third down in the first half.
Yet, thanks to the defensive excellence, the Lions managed to tie the game at 3-3 at the break, scoring on a 49-yard field goal by Prater on a drive that began at the Detroit 47.
Abdullah’s kickoff return to open the second half was one of the Lions’ top plays of the season. He saw an alley and raced 104 yards, tied for the third-longest kickoff return in franchise history, but the Packers tackled him at the 1.
Fortunately for the Lions, the offense didn’t waste the electric return as Stafford hit tight end Brandon Pettigrew for a 2-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. It was Pettigrew’s first touchdown since Nov. 24, 2013.
However, Prater missed the extra point, so with 13:33 left in the third quarter, the Lions’ lead was 9-3.
Both offenses struggled for the remainder of the third quarter, but the Lions managed to score again shortly into the fourth quarter. Taking advantage of good field position again at their own 45, the Lions moved into field-goal position on their first play of the drive, a 15-yard pass from Stafford to Johnson.
The possession stalled a few plays later, but Prater made a 51-yard field goal to give the Lions a 12-3 lead with 13:10 left in regulation.
After punts by each team, the Packers finally found a rhythm on offense, trimming the Lions’ lead with an 11-play, 78-yard touchdown drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown to tight end Richard Rodgers as the Packers made it 12-10 with 5:55 remaining.
But the Lions responded with the touchdown to Moore, which was set up by Golden Tate's excellent 43-yard catch and run. With the missed extra point, though, the Lions gave the Packers hope at 18-10.
Green Bay needed eight plays to drive 73 yards to another touchdown, scoring on an 11-yard pass from Rodgers to tight end Justin Perillo with 32 seconds left. A roughing-the-passer penalty on Ezekiel Ansah helped keep the Packers in the game, and Perillo scored on the next play.
However, Green Bay failed on the 2-point conversion as Butler broke up a pass to Davante Adams in the end zone. The Packers recovered the onside kick, but Crosby missed the field goal as time expired.
“This locker room was buzzing after the game,” Johnson said. “Finally got a win here, first time in my whole career, first time in however many odd years. It wasn’t pretty. We didn’t make it easy, but the win is all that counts right now.”