By Michael Ferro
With their brutal loss at the hands of Dallas last week, the Detroit Lions saw their hopes for the playoffs come down to the final week against a Green Bay team that won five consecutive games to battle back for the top spot. Coincidentally, both teams found out before kickoff that due to losses by other teams, each would still have a spot in the playoffs, regardless of who won Sunday night in Detroit. Still, the fate of the NFC North hung in the balance.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford continued his attempt to get more comfortable with the stint on his throwing hand while incorporating the young running back Zach Zenner into the offense. The Lions did get a chance to mount another comeback in the final minutes (be it a massive 14-point comeback), but it was not meant to be—despite a Hail Mary touchdown by Stafford—as Detroit fell 31-24.
From the start, Stafford went to his top target in Golden Tate to make the big plays. In fact, during this game, Matthew Stafford became the fastest QB to throw for 30,000 yards in history with just 109 games under his belt (beating the legendary Dan Marino’s old record). Meanwhile, Zenner proved that he could be part of the future of the ground game for the Lions with another big game that included 69 yards rushing, four receptions for 41 yards, and a touchdown.
The Lions offense slowed in the second half. As everything came down to the final few minutes of the game, Stafford found himself with a 14-point deficit and less and four minutes left, but there would be no storybook comeback this game. Stafford threw an interception in the end zone that resulted in a touchback, effectively ending the game…until the Lions got the ball back with seconds left and Stafford threw a Hail Mary to score one more touchdown.
The good news this week was that star cornerback Darius Slay returned to the lineup for the biggest game yet this season; it gave hope to a massively struggling Detroit defense. And though the squad held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense at bay for the first quarter, Green Bay soon found a way to score just before the half and soon after, as well.
Rodgers kept that momentum going into the third and forth quarters, scoring another two touchdowns to give Green Bay a 31-17 lead. Unfortunately, as in the previous week, Detroit’s defense couldn’t find a way to slow a more dominant offense and the Lions suffered thusly.
Special Teams: B-
Once again, kicker Matt Prater somehow missed a 39-yard field goal attempt early that could have given Detroit the lead in a scoreless game (Prater missed a 49-yard field goal last week). Prater did redeem himself with a perfect 54-yard field goal to keep the Lions alive and down by just six points midway through the fourth quarter.
Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell did a decent job of prepping his team for their biggest game of the year as evidenced by the Lions’ balanced efforts in the first half Though Washington losing earlier in the day, guaranteeing Detroit a spot in the playoffs, surely didn’t hurt to take some pressure off. For much of the game, too, Detroit was well-disciplined, committing only five penalties while Green Bay racked them up. Caldwell also made a smart call by challenging the spot call late in the game that was reversed (though it was to no avail after the next play).
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter knew that he had found some true magic last week when running back Zack Zenner had a big game against Dallas. It came as no surprise to see the Lions utilizing him again from the start of this match up, including as a short receiver. Still, despite their efforts, Detroit continued in its losing streak.
Up Next: Despite the loss, No. 6 seed Detroit will still compete in the playoffs in a brutal match up against the No. 3 seed Seahawks in Seattle on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 8:15 p.m. EST.