MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara's Friday Focus: A look back at the past 20 seasons at Lambeau

Posted Dec 7, 2012

The Lions' road losing streak against the Packers – 21 straight games over 20 seasons – is too awful for words.

It isn't the hallowed Frozen Tundra or the pantheon of Packers football heroes who let Green Bay continue to live up to the name “Titletown USA" that concerns the Lions as they trundle off to Lambeau Field Sunday night to face their greatest nemesis in franchise history.

It's the streak that makes them feel like they're wearing weighted vests and running in sand against an opponent that is lighter, faster and has the wind at its back.

There are bad streaks, and then there are streaks that words simply have not been created to describe to their fullest, agonizing extent.

The Lions' road losing streak against the Packers – 21 straight games over 20 seasons – is too awful for words.

They are decided underdogs to keep it from stretching to 22 straight in Sunday night's game at Lambeau.

The Lions should be able to score against the Packers, but not enough to overcome their defensive issues and the ability of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to exploit them.

My pick for Sunday: Packers 31, Lions 23.

The Lions are on a four-game losing streak that has dropped their record to 4-8 and knocked them out of playoff contention with a month left in the season.

The Packers aren't as dominant as last year's team that head a league-best record of 15-1, but they're on the upswing with an 8-4 record and six wins in the last seven games.

For this game, odds and won-lost records are meaningless.

It's the streak. There isn't a lot of inspiration left for the Lions. Calvin Johnson's pursuit of Jerry Rice's one-season record of 1,848 receiving yards should provide a spark in the last four weeks.

Breaking the streak should give extra motivation Sunday night. As a team, nothing would be sweeter in the last four games than breaking the road losing streak against the Packers.

Winning at Lambeau would be a great story for the Lions, but that's not logical. The storylines this season have centered more on athletic tragedy than storybook endings.

The last three games have been especially brutal, with losses at home to the Packers, Texans and Colts in overtime. The Lions had the lead late in all three games, only to misfire in crucial situations on offense and have the defense fold under pressure.

This week's Friday Focus looks as the history of the streak and its starting point, personnel issues for both teams, and how Johnson is closing in on Rice's record.

Megatron chasing Rice: Johnson has 1,428 yards. Rice's record is 1,848. In the last four games, Johnson needs 421 yards to break the record. That's an average of 105.25 yards per game.

In his last five games, Johnson has 790 yards, or 158 per game. He had five catches for 143 yards against the Packers three weeks ago and 11 catches for 244 yards in the final game at Lambeau in 2011.

With attention growing as he gets closer to Rice's record, Johnson admits he wants to go for it.

“I really wasn't made aware about it until like a week or two ago," he said Thursday. “It wasn't something that was just directly on my radar. But now it is, because everybody around me talks about it.

“I can't help but hear about it all the time. At the same time, I'm just going to work my butt off to make plays for the team, and if it happens, it happens. It would be a great feat if it does."

How the losing streak began: There was nothing memorable in the offing when the Lions and Packers met in Game 13 of the 1992 at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

It would become an historical marker for both franchises – a millstone for the Lions, a stepping stone for the Packers – but it was little more than a throwaway game late in the '92 season.

The Lions had long ago crumbled because of injuries and were headed to a 5-11 record. It was a major disappointment coming after their 12-4 record in 1991 and a playoff victory over the Cowboys that sent them to the NFC Championship, where they lost to the Packers.

The Packers were rebuilding , with a new head coach in Mike Holmgren, and a young quarterback whom they'd gotten in an offseason trade with the Atlanta Falcons. Brett Favre was the new quarterback, and in this game he threw for 214 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-10 Packers victory.

Rodney Peete and Andre Ware shared the quarterbacking duties for the Lions. Both were ineffective. The two bright spots were Barry Sanders and Herman Moore. Sanders gained 114 yards on 16 carries. Moore had eight catches for 114 yards and the Lions' only TD.

The worst loss: Nothing comes close to the 16-12 loss at Lambeau in the Wild Card playoff round in 1994.

The Packers shackled Sanders, holding him to minus one yard on 13 rushing attempts.

Despite that, the Lions came close to winning. With 1:51 left and the Packers leading, 16-10, the Lions had 4th-and-14 at the Packers' 17. Herman Moore caught Dave Krieg's pass at the back of the end zone for what would have been the go-ahead TD. However, Moore landed inches beyond the end line, making it incomplete.

The Packers took a deliberate safety on fourth down, ending the game and making the final score 16-12.

Packers personnel/injuries: The Packers are likely to be without pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews, safety Charles Woodson and wide receiver Jordy Nelson. T.J. Lang, who did a good job at right tackle in the first game against the Lions three weeks ago, could move back to left guard with Don Barclay at tackle.

Running back Ryan Grant, a Packer from 2007-2011, was signed this week to add depth to a position depleted by injuries.

Cedric Benson, Johnny White and James Starks all have gone down. Starks is the most recent casualty.

Grant is the fifth-leading rusher in franchise history with 4,016 yards in his five seasons in Green Bay.

He was not signed back this year. He played in one game for Washington, gaining five yards on one carry against Atlanta, but otherwise was out of football until the Packers called with an offer.

Grant has some big moments against the Lions. One came in the final game last season, a 45-41 Packers win. He went 80 yards for a TD on a screen pass. He also has had two 100-yard rushing games – 101 on 15 carries in 2007 and 106 on 19 carries in '08.

Lions personnel/injuries: The secondary and wide receiver groups are positions that have been shredded by injuries.

Seven players have started at safety since opening day. Erik Coleman, who had the most starts with seven, was released earlier in the week.

Louis Delmas and Don Carey will be the starting tandem for the second straight week.

Others who have started at safety are John Wendling, Amari Spievey, Ricardo Silva and Drayton Florence.

Three receivers who have started are on injured reserve. Nate Burleson went out first with a broken leg sustained in Game 6 against Atlanta. Ryan Broyles and Titus Young were put on injured reserve this week.

Kris Durham, Matthew Stafford's former teammate at Georgia, was brought up from the practice squad this week to fill out the position.

Stafford will have to lean heavily on Calvin Johnson and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler to make up for the lack of experience at receiver.

But others, such as Mike Thomas, Brian Robiskie and Durham, have to come through when the opportunity arises.

“They've been here for a while," Stafford said. “They've been practicing, so they should know most of the stuff."