Detroit News reporters Justin Rogers and John Niyo breakdown all the things that went wrong in Monday night's loss to the Packers. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Green Bay, Wis. — For as much as this Detroit Lions team has looked and played differently this season, the team's 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night was a classic cocktail of false hope, execution errors and debatable officiating, resulting in an all-too-familiar heartache for Lions fans.
The Lions raced out to a 13-0 lead, but the team's inability to get out of its own way or finish scoring opportunities whittled down its margin of error and allowed officiating to impact the final result.
"That was the story of the game, in my opinion," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I thought our defense played well enough for us to win the game. We made some big plays on offense that we shouldn't have blown in the red zone. We can't do that on the road against a good team."
Mason Crosby put the finishing touches on the Packers' comeback, knocking down a 23-yard chip shot field goal as time expired to send the Lambeau Field crowd into a frenzy.
The 14-play drive ate the final 6:46 off the clock. The Lions almost had a chance to respond, after forcing an incompletion on third down in the red zone with 1:36 remaining, but defensive end Trey Flowers was whistled for hands to the face.
It was the second consecutive drive Flowers was flagged for the infraction, after never drawing a penalty for the act the first 50 games of his career. Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari likely helped draw the calls, selling Flowers' blocks by violently whipping his head back.
"It was hands to the chest, initially," Flowers said. "I was doing it all game. I didn't know that was a flag to the chest. I didn't think hands to the chest was a penalty."
Official Clete Blackman was asked to explain what his crew saw on the two plays.
"Our umpire threw both of them and the last one is really only the one I discussed with him," Blakeman said. "Basically, for illegal use of hands, hands to the face foul to be created we need some forceful contact that’s prolonged to the head and neck area (by) the defender. In his mind, he had pinned him back, so it was prolonged. That’s what created the foul."
The night had started out so promising for Detroit. The team wasted little time opening up its playbook, running a flea flicker on the game's opening snap.The Packers safeties bit hard on the play fake, leaving wide receiver Kenny Golladay wide open for a 66-yard gain to the 11-yard line.
"We practiced that all week and felt good about it," Golladay said. "Let's start the game off with a bang. It was just another situation where we wish we had come out with seven instead of three."
The Lions settled for a short Matt Prater field goal after quarterback Matthew Stafford fumbled after colliding with fullback Nick Bellore on first down. Two plays later, Stafford stumbled in the pocket and his intended target, tight end Jesse James, also lost his footing, leaving the Lions short of the end zone.
The defense quickly got the ball back for Stafford and company, forcing a three-and-out when nickel cornerback Justin Coleman jarred a third-down pass free from the grasp of wide receiver Geronimo Allison, forcing the punt.
Much like the Lions' first drive, the first play was a deep shot. This time, Stafford found Marvin Hall for a 58-yard gain into the red zone. A third-down conversion on a short throw to Golladay set up Kerryon Johnson for a 1-yard scoring plunge on fourth-and-goal, extending the lead to 10.
Stafford finished the first quarter with 168 yards passing, a team record.
The Packers offense found a groove on the ensuing possession leaning heavily on their backs. Three straight completions out of the backfield moved the ball across midfield, before defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson forced Aaron Jones to fumble a carry in Lions territory that was recovered by linebacker Christian Jones.
The Lions quickly moved back into Packers territory with a 20-yard screen pass to Johnson giving Detroit first-and-goal from the 8. On second down, T.J. Hockenson dropped a pass in the end zone, and that was followed by a delay-of-game penalty, leading to another missed opportunity and a short Prater field goal.
"We have to get touchdowns," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "Obviously, we've got to get those points and we've got to keep them out of the end zone on defense."
The Packers finally got on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter following a 14-play, 70-yard touchdown drive.
The Lions defense had multiple opportunities to get off the field, but committed a pair of penalties on third down, including having too many men on the field during a field-goal attempt. Running back Jamaal Williams capped the action with a 7-yard touchdown on a tap pass while motioning across the formation.
"We have a couple different calls there in that situation, and one of the guys just didn't get the communication," Patricia said. "We have to get that fixed and make sure that doesn't happen."
After the Lions stalled near midfield, the Packers took over at their own 6 and added three points before the half. Williams burst through the center of the defense for a 45-yard gain into the red zone, but the defense managed to limit the damage, leaving it 13-10 at the half.
The Packers quickly tied the score to start the third quarter, aided by a controversial 15-yard penalty against Lions safety Tracy Walker, who was flagged for helmet-to-helmet contact with Allison while going for an interception.
"There were some awful, awful calls, but we need to play through them," Walker said.
Blakeman said even though Walker was going for the ball, the onus is on the defender to avoid contact with the receiver's helmet.
"He may be going for the ball, may not intend to hit the helmet, but when there’s helmet contact, it basically is a foul," the official said.
A 25-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to tight end Mercedes Lewis pushed the possession into Detroit territory, but linebacker Jarrad Davis' third-down blitz ended the threat. Crosby knocked home a field goal from 48 yards to knot it up.
The Lions regained the lead, 16-13, after Packers return man Darrius Shepherd fumbled a punt on a big hit by cornerback Dee Virgin, leading to Prater's third field goal of the night, this one from 41 yards out.
The fumble recovery was Detroit's league-leading eighth of the season.
After a Packers three-and-out, the Lions again worked into Packers territory before stalling and calling on Prater to secure points. The kicker delivered from 50 yards out, making it 19-13.
The teams traded punts before the Packers drove into the red zone. Facing third-and-7 from the Lions 12, Rodgers targeted Shepard at the goal line, but the receiver lost his footing. The pass bounced off his face mask and was plucked out of the air by Coleman, who returned it 55 yards across midfield.
The Lions quickly stalled out after a coach's challenge reversed a first-down reception by Johnson, resulting in another long field goal attempt for Prater, who buried it from 54 yards to extend the advantage to two scores, 22-13.
Johnson said he thought he had secured the reception before he knocked the ball free with his own knee.
The Packers quickly countered with a seven-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that took just 3:14. The Lions once again came up with a defensive stop that was derailed by a penalty, when Flowers was called for his first illegal hands to the face, negating a sack.
Three plays later, Rodgers hooked up with Allen Lazard for a 35-yard touchdown.
A quick defensive stop set up the Packers' winning drive.
The loss drops the Lions to 2-2-1 on the season. The Packers move to 5-1 with the win and 3-0 in the NFC North.