Lions' early lead disappears at Lambeau

December 9, 2012

The Detroit Lions had just scored to take a two-touchdown lead early in the second quarter on a snowy Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

Maybe it would be the end of two long decades of road losses to the Packers.

Tony Scheffler was celebrating his touchdown with teammate Joique Bell. They looked as if they were pretending to shovel snow off of the Frozen Tundra.

What they really did was dig their own grave.

That’s how it’s going for the Lions this season. They’ve been finding ways to barely lose, and they continued that trend in a 27-20 defeat.

Scheffler and Bell were called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for excessive demonstration. That forced the Lions to kick off from their 20-yard line.

Call it the beginning of the end. Call it bad karma. Call it stupidity.

The Packers ended up starting the next drive at their 38, which led to a 49-yard field goal to help them get on track.

Less than five minutes later, the game really turned when Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford tried to throw a quick screen pass to Calvin Johnson. The ball slipped out of Stafford’s hand and the fumble was returned 43 yards for a touchdown by Mike Daniels, a reserve defensive end, to cut Detroit’s lead to 14-10 with 6:15 left in the half.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz called it a “freak play.”

“We had a great chance on that play,” Schwartz said during his postgame radio show. “If we get that ball out to Calvin, we’re going to have a big play.”

You knew at halftime the Lions potentially were in trouble. They had totally dominated the first half. They ran 41 plays to Green Bay’s 16. They had 218 offensive yards to the Packers’ 94, including a 117-42 edge on the ground.

But the lead was still only four points. The Packers had the Lions, a team that can’t finish games, right where they wanted them.

Not surprisingly, the lead was wiped out in a little more than three minutes on the Packers’ first possession of the second half. Rodgers, on third-and-4, escaped a near-sack and ran 27 yards for the touchdown.

Discipline was again part of the problem for Detroit. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was called for a foolish roughing-the-quarterback penalty when he took a couple extra steps and shoved Rodgers to give Green Bay a first down at the Lions’ 31-yard line.

Despite all the negative headlines, it was actually only Suh’s second penalty all season and his first personal foul.

But it was a costly one and an unnecessary one.

The Lions don’t have much room for error, not on the road, certainly not against the Packers. Their mistakes became magnified in the end because they helped wipe out all that early momentum. 

The game ultimately came down to the fourth quarter. After Jason Hanson missed a 51-yard field goal for Detroit, Green Bay got the ball at its 41 and totally shredded the Lions’ defense with a running game that really isn't that strong.

The Packers went 59 yards on seven straight runs, taking a 24-17 lead on DuJuan Harris’ 14-yard dash with 10:45 remaining.

“We’ve got to get it stopped, let’s put it that way,” Schwartz said when asked about his defense’s inability to stop the run in that sequence.

The Lions' offense, meanwhile, was shut down for most of the second half, including just 18 yards rushing.

“We just couldn’t get into a rhythm in that second half,” Schwartz said. “It showed on the scoreboard.”

What had looked so promising early on for the Lions fell apart once again down the stretch.

That makes it 21 straight regular-season road losses to Green Bay (18 at Lambeau and three in Milwaukee). The streak is 22 overall, including a playoff game.

During a postgame television interview, Rodgers called it an “ugly win” for the 9-4 Packers.

“Ugly wins are better than tough losses,” Rodgers said.

The Lions (4-9) seem to know about tough losses lately. They’ve dropped five straight, the last three after blowing leads of at least 10 points. Eight of their nine losses have been by eight points or less.

Maybe they can get an ugly win next Sunday at Arizona. The Cardinals have lost nine in a row and are coming off a 58-0 embarrassment against Seattle.

But as dreadful as Arizona is right now, there’s no guarantee for a Detroit team that simply has been doing whatever it takes to lose these days.

Johnson caught 10 passes for 118 yards, giving him 1,546 receiving yards for the season.
He needs 141 yards in the final three games to break Herman Moore’s club record (1,686) and 303 yards to break Jerry Rice’s NFL record (1,848).
Receiver Kris Durham, Stafford’s former teammate at Georgia, set up the second touchdown when he reached out with his right arm and made a spectacular 27-yard reception.

But later in the first half, Stafford threw an interception and motioned with his hand that his buddy hadn’t run the route properly.

Durham, who finished with four catches for 54 yards, was elevated from the practice squad last week after Ryan Broyles and Titus Young were placed on injured list.

… Bell, linebacker DeAndre Levy, safety Ricardo Silva went through pregame drills on the field with no shirts. It was about 30 degrees.

… Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee), both listed as questionable, were inactive for Detroit.

… After scoring on a 4-yard bootleg, Stafford is tied for the most rushing touchdowns in a season by a Lions quarterback since Scott Mitchell also had four in 1996.