Lions give mistake-prone Packers the boot
Detroit — What could go wrong, did go wrong for the Green Bay Packers.
The Detroit Lions happily took advantage of a slew of Packers' mistakes, including three turnovers and four missed field goals, jumping out to a massive, 24-point halftime lead before cruising to a 31-23 victory Sunday at Ford Field.
"I think we just did too many things that we couldn’t overcome," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought our guys fought, made big plays obviously to start. Being down at halftime was obviously a hole that we couldn’t quite dig ourselves out of."
The Lions, who swept the Packers last season, have won three straight over their NFC North Division rivals for the first time since 1990-91.
The Lions (2-3) got on the board early, thanks to a Packers’ (2-2-1) error on a punt return. While blocking on a short kick by Sam Martin, the ball ricocheted off Packers cornerback Kevin King and was recovered at the 1-yard line by Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew.
It took the Lions just one try to get into the end zone, loading up at the offensive line and handing it off to running back LeGarrette Blount, who plowed through the chaos in the trenches for the score.
Finally getting the ball, the Packers looked to quickly respond, driving into Detroit territory after a pair of third-down conversions. But on a third, Lions defensive lineman Kerry Hyder beat his block up the middle and pressured Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers into throwing the ball away.
That was the beginning of Packers kicker Mason Crosby’s rough afternoon, as he sent a 41-yard field-goal attempt left.
With a short field, the Lions found themselves back in the end zone four plays later.
Wide receiver Kenny Golladay hauled in a jump ball down the left sideline over rookie cornerback Josh Jackson and stiff-armed Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, gaining 60 yards on the reception down to the 5. It was again Blount putting the points on the board, plunging in from a yard out behind a surprising lead block by 202-pound slot receiver Golden Tate, who motioned inside prior the snap.
"The (receivers) continue to do that and they continue to make plays downfield," Blount said. "They continue to do everything right and do it great for us, including going out against safeties, if they have to, or cracking linebackers, or whatever the case might be. They’re fully committed and they’re into it, so obviously I have to return the favor to them when it’s time."
Detroit quickly found itself back in scoring range again when defensive end Romeo Okwara chased Rodgers down from behind and chopped the ball out. The fumble was recovered by Devon Kennard at the 22 and led to a 39-yard Matt Prater field goal, making it 17-0 early in the second quarter.
"I was hoping he didn’t throw it," Okwara said. "Glad he held it a little bit longer."
The Packers’ offense got back on track the ensuing possession, behind running back Aaron Jones, who gained 37 yards on four carries. But when the drive stalled in Lions’ territory, Crosby again misfired, clanging a 42-yard effort off the right post.
After a Lions punt, Crosby completed a dubious, first-half trifecta, missing wide right from 38 yards. That came after Okwara forced Rodgers into an intentional grounding infraction, backing the Packers up 16 yards, from inside the 5.
"This one, unfortunately, was really bad and going to have to really look at this one, and you know, this one hurts a bunch," Crosby said. "I left a lot of points on the field for this team and I’m disappointed in my performance."
Detroit pushed its advantage to 24-0 with 20 seconds remaining in the half. Taking advantage of a second fumble by Rodgers — this one forced by rookie defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand — the offense quickly worked into the red zone when Golladay’s face mask was grabbed by a defender after a short completion.
On third-and-goal from the 8, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford fired a bullet hauled in by Marvin Jones, who managed to get his knee in bounds before tumbling out the back of the end zone.
After coming into the game last in the league last in the red zone, the Lions went 4-4 with their opportunities against the Packers.
"That’s the name of the game, right?" Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "We have to score points and we have to keep the drives going. It was great to see, and again, give credit to the guys on the field with the execution. I thought they did a great job and had some great scheme dialed up and they went out and communicated and executed at a high level in those situations."
Halftime proved to be a good time for the Packers to regroup, and they made it a game by driving 75 yards in 11 plays to open the third quarter.
After back-to-back sacks by Kennard and Okwara, Rodgers converted a fourth-and-11 on a throw to leading receiver Davante Adams, setting up a 3-yard touchdown throw to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. There was confusion on coverage assignments between cornerbacks Darius Slay and Cre’Von LeBlanc, leaving Valdes-Scantling open on the play. A successful two-point conversion made it 24-8.
The Packers further cut into the lead after Prater missed a 55-yard field goal, providing a short field. Another fourth-down conversion, this time when Rodgers rushing up the gut for 6 yards, the quarterback found tight end Lance Kendricks on a short, play-action toss. The 2-point conversion failed.
With Detroit’s momentum slipping away, and the big halftime lead threatening to leave with it, the Lions stopped the bleeding with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Aided by a pair of Packers penalty worth 20 yards of field position, and a 24-yard run by rookie running back Kerryon Johnson into the red zone, Stafford connected with Golladay in the back of the end zone, in nearly an identical spot as Jones’ score at the end zone the half, pushing the advantage back to three scores, 31-14.
"It was big," Stafford said. "We knew they were going to put some points up, at some point, and they obviously did, and I was just proud of our guys going down and scoring the way we do it."
A 12-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Adams with 9:07 remaining preceded another mishit by Crosby, a missed PAT this time, leaving Detroit’s lead at 11.
And Crosby's misery still wasn't complete.
With a chance to pull the Packers within one score on a 56-yard field goal attempt inside four minutes remaining, he missed wide right once again.
By netting a first down on the ensuing possession, the Lions forced the Packers to use all three of the team's timeouts, essentially killing all remaining hope for a comeback.
Crosby made a 41-yard field goal, his first of the game, with two seconds remaining, but the Lions recovered the onside kick, sealing the victory.
Stafford completed 14 of 26 passes for 183 yards and the two touchdowns; he was not intercepted.
Johnson led the Lions’ rushers with 70 yards on 12 carries. Golladay had four receptions for 98 yards and the touchdown.