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Lions' defense faltering late in fourth quarter

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Through three games, a theme has surfaced with the Lions defense: The inability to come up with crucial late-game stops.

The latest example came in the final 3 minutes 30 seconds of their Week 3 road loss to the Packers. After Marvin Jones’ 35-yard touchdown reception made it a one-possession game, the Lions front seven stuffed Packers running back Eddie Lacy for a loss and a minimal gain on back-to-back plays to force a third-and-8 at the Green Bay 27 with 3:22 left.

But the defense couldn’t contain quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who scrambled around the left end for 11 yards and picked up a backbreaking first down.

Two plays later, Lacy picked up another first down with a 9-yard run to effectively end it with Rodgers kneeling three times to run out the clock of the Packers’ 34-27 victory.

“When you don’t win, there’s all kinds of concerns,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Monday. “Even when we do win, there’s still concerns from my vantage point. What we have to do is we have to play defense like we know how to play. We just haven’t been as stout as we’d like to be, but I don’t think there’s any question about we can be.

“We’ve shown flashes, but the big thing is being more consistent. We had stopped them several plays prior to that, matter of fact that second half only allowing a few points. It tells you we were on the right track there, but just to get that stop there at the end where you needed it, we just weren’t able to come up with it.”

Defensive end Kerry Hyder said while it was disappointing allowing the Packers to score on their first six drives, he was encouraged how the unit regrouped in the second half to force two quick punts on back-to-back possessions as the Lions rallied from a 31-3 deficit.

“It’s a tale of two halves,” Hyder said. “The first half we’re giving up a lot of stuff then the second half we’re able to rally together and try to figure it out. We just have to do it earlier. We have to be consistent with our keys and just be more consistent as a defense.”

Hyder added the defense has to do a better job of focusing a full 60 minutes instead of the 20-30 minutes they have the first three weeks.

“We have yet to play a full game as a defense,” Hyder said. “We really have to put the fire out. We have to do that ASAP.”

In the opening 39-35 victory over the Colts, the defense got off to a fast start before falling apart in the second half. After the Lions took a 34-28 lead with 4:40 remaining on Theo Riddick’s 13-yard touchdown catch, the defense offered little resistance as the Colts marched 75 yards down the field in eight plays to take a 35-34 lead with 37 seconds left.

The Lions forced one third down — third-and-4 from the Lions 6 — on the final play of the drive, which resulted in a Jack Doyle touchdown reception.

Then in Week 2, the Lions held the Titans to three points before unraveling and giving up two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a crushing 16-15 loss. The Titans converted a pair of third downs on their 13-play drive.

“At the end of the day, it starts from within so it’s nothing the opponent is doing,” cornerback Nevin Lawson said. “We just got to get better on everything; communication, understanding what we got to do. If we execute how we’re supposed to execute and like how I know we can, we can make those plays.”

Lions at Bears

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Soldier Field, Chicago

TV/radio: Fox/WJR

Line: Lions by 3

Series: Bears lead 96-71-3 (Lions 24-20, Jan. 3, 2016) @jamesbhawkins