Detroit — The Lions didn’t trail while there was time on the clock in their game against the Packers Thursday night at Ford Field.
“We played 60 minutes,” Lions defensive end Darryl Tapp said. “We needed to play another 10 or so phantom, un-clocked seconds to take care of what we started.”
Because of that phantom time at the end of the game, the Lions were left wondering how and why they lost, 27-23, to their division rivals as a Hail Mary helped the Packers complete their comeback from 20-0 behind in the third quarter.
And, as was the case in Seattle in Week 4, the Lions were on the wrong end of a possible blunder by the officials that had a massive effect on the outcome of the game, a call that led to an explanatory tweet from the NFL’s officiating executive.
With 6 seconds left and the ball at the Green Bay 21, the Packers tried a miraculous schoolyard pitch play, hoping to move the ball 79 yards with a series of laterals. The Lions stopped that play, tackling quarterback Aaron Rodgers after he couldn’t find any a teammate available for a pitch.
But, two flags fell on the field after Rodgers did, and referee Carl Cheffers quickly called a facemask on defensive end Devin Taylor, giving the Packers 15 yards and an extra play after time expired.
“My personal opinion, I didn’t think I did,” Taylor said when asked if he grabbed Rodgers’ facemask.
Coach Jim Caldwell agreed, but said he didn’t cause an uproar because “they’re not going to change it.”
“Didn’t think it was, but because you don’t think it was or I don’t think it was, it was called,” Caldwell said. “So, therefore it is, and we’ve just got to find a way to make the play.”
Instead, the Packers made the most important play of the game. With the Lions rushing three players — Taylor, end Jason Jones and tackle Haloti Ngata — Rodgers created time in the pocket before running to his right and launching the ball high in the air.
Tight end Richard Rodgers, who’d already caught four catches of 15-plus yards in the game, was at the front of the end zone and made the catch with a surprising lack of interference.
The 61-yard touchdown erased all the successes the Lions previously had as they tried to win their fourth consecutive game and keep their slim postseason hopes alive. With 23 seconds left, the Packers needed to score on a drive starting at their 21, and they did.
On the penalty call, Taylor appeared to graze Aaron Rodgers’ facemask without grasping it, but he did jar it, which was apparently enough for two officials to throw flags.
After the game, Dean Blandino, the league’s vice president of officiating, provided an explanation that doesn’t necessarily say it was the right call.
“Hand up to the mask, quick grab with finger and head gets turned,” he wrote on Twitter. “At full speed official is going to make that call almost every time.”
Aaron Rodgers didn’t seem to think it was a facemask penalty, instead suggesting it was a make-up call for the officials missing what he thought was defensive pass interference on the second play of the desperation drive, a deep toss to receiver Jared Abbrederis.
“I think it was just a little karma saved up there after the no-P.I.,” Rodgers said.
For most of the game, it looked like the Lions were going to have serious bragging rights over their division rival as the win would’ve given them their first sweep over the Packers since 1991. Instead, the Lions experienced heartbreak and will now see just how difficult it is to overcome their 1-7 start.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford finished 23 of 35 for 220 yards and two touchdowns for the Lions, but he was much better in a stellar first half that ended with them leading 17-0.
The Lions completely dominated in the first half, scoring on their first three drives while the defense limited Green Bay’s offense to just 78 yards. They added a field goal on their first drive of the third quarter, but the Packers scored two touchdowns within 2 minutes later in the quarter, making it a 20-14 game with 4:06 left in the third.
Stafford’s first touchdown was a 3-yarder to tight end Eric Ebron, and the second was a 17-yarder to wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who made a sensational toe-drag catch in the corner of the end zone.
The Lions started the scoring with a 51-yard field goal by Matt Prater, who later added kicks from 34 and 42 yards to improve to 17-of-17 on field goals this season.
Running back Ameer Abdullah added 13 carries for 67 yards, including a 36-yarder that was the Lions’ longest of the season.
The defensive highlight for the Lions in the first half was an interception by safety Glover Quin on the Packers’ third possession. After Quin returned the turnover 24 yards to the Green Bay 17, Johnson caught a touchdown on the next play.
The defense came out full of energy and allowed just one first down in the Packers’ first three drives, but couldn’t continue its strong play for the rest of the game.
Taylor had a career-high two sacks and a forced fumble, and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus had a game-high 11 tackles, though he was too often on the wrong end of Richard Rodgers’ eight catches for 146 yards.
Aaron Rodgers finished 24 of 36 for 273 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also had a 17-yard rushing touchdown with 3:04 left that made it 23-21.
With a 17-0 lead, the Lions held the Packers scoreless in a first half for the first time since Week 3 of 2012, according to ESPN.
The Packers first touchdown came on a 75-play drive completed when running back James Starks fumbled into the end zone, where receiver Randall Cobb recovered.
The Lions gave the ball back on their first offensive play as Packers linebacker Julius Peppers sacked Stafford and stripped the ball, which former Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan recovered. Three plays later, Rodgers threw a beautiful 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver Davante Adams, which made it 20-14.
After punts by both teams, the Lions went on an extended drive that featured a conversion on fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 38. Ultimately, the Lions had to settle for a Prater field goal that gave them a 23-14 lead with 7:06 left in the fourth quarter before Aaron Rodgers ran for a score.
The Lions were in position to end the game on offense after Stafford completed a 29-yard pass to TJ Jones on a third-and-12 with 2:54 remaining as the Packers had no timeouts left.
Instead, the Lions ran three times with Joique Bell and punted back to the Packers, who used the 23 seconds, and more, to win the game.
“There’s no certain victory,” Caldwell said. “Until that clock ticks zero, there’s no such thing as certain victory. I never feel that way. When it’s over with, it’s over. That’s why I never smile during the course of games, for the most part, until it’s over. And that’s a perfect example.”