Lions' Austin takes blame for Hail Mary defense

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Richard Rodgers makes the Hail Mary catch on a 61-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to beat the Lions on Dec. 3.

Allen Park — After more than 10 months, we finally have some clarity on who called the Detroit Lions’ defensive alignment on the Hail Mary by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and why the call was made.

In the immediate aftermath of the stunning loss, there was a clear organization directive not to answer questions about the play, but Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin finally shed some light on his thought process when making the call.

“I can tell you my thoughts on things were that ball would have to travel 70 yards in the air,” Austin said. “I thought he might be able to get it there, but I didn’t think he’d be able to get it there the way he did. Again, that falls on me and how we did it, and we’ll make sure moving forward that those things don’t happen again.”

It wasn’t that Austin questioned Rodgers’ arm strength. The coordinator knew the quarterback could get the necessary distance, but didn’t anticipate Rodgers’ having enough time for his receivers to get downfield or the space to launch it at the angle he did.

“You can throw it 70 yards, but to throw it 70 yards as high as he did and to have it come down, that takes a little extra time,” Austin said. “I think what happened, when you saw, was he got outside the pocket and basically it was a javelin throw. He was able to really torque it and get it up in there, and get it high, to give his guy an opportunity to catch it.

“Made a great play, and I didn’t make a good call and we didn’t finish it.”

The key to the play’s success was the Packers’ protection. The Lions, because they dropped the two defenders to midfield, rushed the passer with just three.

“Do you allow the quarterback to have the proper time clock that he needs and then with that just the footwork and the launch of the ball, the angle of the launch? Once I saw that, in my mind, we have a chance,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during a conference call on Wednesday. “We’ve got the ball thrown at the right time clock to give our receivers enough time to get down the field and it was definitely at the angle that you’re looking at. It was an exceptional throw as far as the angle and the height of the football.”

Austin did leave one portion of the decision-making process a mystery, declining to comment why wide receiver Calvin Johnson wasn’t on the field to defend the pass.