The Detroit Lions head to Lambeau Field in Green Bay for Sunday night’s nationally televised game with a 4-8 record, a four-game losing streak and next-to-no-chance at making the playoffs.
Here are five storylines to follow:
• The last time the Lions beat the Packers on the road …
Quarterback Matthew Stafford was 3 years old.
Coach Jim Schwartz was the secondary coach at North Carolina Central.
Team president Tom Lewand had just graduated from the University of Michigan and was serving as an environmental advisor for the governor of Indiana.
General Manager Martin Mayhew was a cornerback for the Washington Redskins.
And kicker Jason Hanson wasn’t even a Lion yet. He was a senior at Washington State.
It’s been a long, long time.
You have to go all the way back to Dec. 15, 1991, the year the Lions went to the NFC Championship Game.
Since then, they’ve lost 20 straight regular-season games on the road to Green Bay, a NFL record. Seventeen of those were at Lambeau Field, the other three in Milwaukee.
The streak is 21 in a row if you count a playoff loss in 1994, too.
Maybe it’s all Hanson’s fault. After all, this dreadful drought started his rookie year with the Lions in 1992. He’s been the kicker for all but two of the losses — 1995 and 2009, when he was injured.
Center Dominic Raiola takes the streak personal. He’s been around for the last 11 road losses to the Packers.
“It is annoying,” Raiola said. “You want to say you didn’t lose any of the games by yourself, but you’ve been on all those teams every year. That’s the hardest thing about it. I’ve been here so long. There’s so much accountability to that streak. It sucks.”
• Safety Tyrell Johnson, signed this week as a free agent, could become the 16th defensive back to play for the Lions this season.
The constant revolving door has finally caught up to the secondary, which has used nine cornerbacks and six safeties in the first 12 games.
Part of it is because of injuries, part of it an effort to improve a mediocre back line.
Eleven of the defensive backs have gotten at least one start, five have been released and two are on the season-ending injured-reserve list.
In the last two games, the Lions have allowed 69 points and 960 yards, including 668 through the air. It could be the start of a meltdown similar to what occurred late last season when the beat-up secondary completely fell apart.
The DBs made three interceptions last week, but they also gave up six pass plays of 20-plus yards and were severely exposed at the end when Indianapolis scored two touchdowns in the final 2:39 to rally from a 12-point deficit.
“Earlier this season, we had done a good job of patching it together,” Schwartz said. “Last week that didn’t happen.”
Needless to say, it’s not the best time for this group to be going to face Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is completing 67.4 percent and has 29 touchdown passes to only eight interceptions.
• On the Lions’ last trip to Green Bay, Calvin Johnson caught 11 passes for a career-best 244 yards while Stafford passed for a career-high 520 yards, albeit in a 45-41 New Year’s Day loss.
“That’s crazy,” Johnson said of the video-game-type stats.
What Megatron has been doing in recent weeks also is crazy. He has averaged nine catches for 158 yards over the last five games.
Johnson, with a league-best 1,428 receiving yards this season, is on the verge of rewriting the record books. He needs 259 yards to break Herman Moore’s single-season club record (1,686 in 1995) and 421 yards to break Jerry’s Rice NFL record (1,848 in ‘95 with San Francisco).
“I’m going to work my butt off to make plays for the team,” Johnson said. “If it (breaking the record) happens, it happens.”
In some ways, it is all Lions fans really have to look forward to at this point. Johnson has put himself in such good position to break Rice’s record with four games remaining that it would be a little disappointing if he doesn’t finish the job.
• If the Lions, who are 6 1/2-point underdogs, are going to finally break through at Green Bay, they’ll have to do a better job of finishing games.
And that’s not just defensively.
The offense has failed to put games away when it had chances in recent weeks and take that pressure off of the defense.
It’s why they’ve lost their last three by a combined total of nine points.
The Lions had a six-point lead and first-and-goal at the Green Bay 10-yard line with less than six minutes remaining three weeks ago. Instead of making it a two-possession game by scoring a touchdown, they settled for a field goal and the Packers rallied.
Two weeks ago, the Lions were again trying to make it a two-possession game in the fourth quarter against Houston, only to get pushed out of field-goal range with third-down sacks on back-to-back possessions. The Lions ended up losing after a fumble and a dropped pass stopped drives in Houston territory in overtime.
It was a similar scenario last game when Detroit was trying to put away Indianapolis late. The Lions were held to a field goal after getting a first down at the 13-yard line and then failed to score at all after taking over near midfield following an interception.
“If we’ve got to get a score to make it a two-score game so that they can’t catch up, we’ve got to get that score,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “We can’t leave points out there and leave it still a one-score game.”
• Green Bay started the season 2-3 and hasn’t been the type of dominant team that many expected after winning 15 games a year ago. Part of the problem has been injuries to key players such as linebacker Clay Matthews.
But the Packers have still found a way to win six of their last seven, tying Chicago for first place in the NFC North.
Green Bay could be the type of team that puts it all together at playoff time if its health continues to improve.
Receiver Greg Jennings, a Kalamazoo, Mich., native and former Western Michigan player, returned last week to make four catches for 46 yards against Minnesota. He had missed the previous seven games because of a groin/abdominal injury.
“It’s another playmaker for them,” Schwartz said.
The Packers have won 18 of their last 19 regular-season games at Lambeau Field. They’ve also won 13 of the last 14 overall in the series with Detroit.
The forecast for Sunday calls for a 70-percent chance of rain/snow with a high of 35 degrees, a low of 21 and the wind at 14 mph, according to Weather.com as of Friday morning. INJURY REPORT
Offensive tackle Jeff Backus (hamstring), safety Louis Delmas (knee), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (quadriceps), cornerback Chris Houston (ankle), defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee) and cornerback Jacob Lacey (foot/Achilles) are all listed as questionable for the Lions.
Green Bay has ruled out Matthews, receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), running back James Starks (knee), cornerback Charles Woodson (collarbone) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee). Offensive lineman T.J. Lang (ankle) is questionable.