GREEN BAY – Burning questions: A fast start and a slow, steady fade by the Detroit Lions with penalties, misplays, a vanishing act by the offense and key breakdowns and penalties by the defense in a 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night TV.
Question: What did the loss show about the Detroit Lions?
Answer: It showed that they can compete with good teams – and the Packers are a good team, but not a great one – but they make too many mistakes and fail to take advantage of opportunities to beat good teams on a consistent basis.
Monday night's game was one the Lions should have won, with a 13-0 lead in the second quarter and a 22-13 lead in the fourth quarter, but they couldn't hold it.
In the loss to Kansas City before the bye it was fumbles that cost the Lions. Monday night it was penalties, defensive breakdowns and an offense that had seven first downs in the first quarter and only six the rest of the game.
Coming off the bye, the Lions were expected to do better, but they didn't. As a result, Green Bay is alone in first place in the NFC North while the Lions have dropped three games behind in the win column with a 2-2-1 record.
Q. Key flag I: It looked like the Lions had the Packers stopped on a key third down in the fourth quarter when they sacked Aaron Rodgers. But a flag for hands to the face on defensive end Trey Flowers gave the Packers a first down. Right call by the officials?
A. Yes. It was a close call, and it was slow to develop, but Flowers got his left hand under the Packers' offensive linemen as he rushed Rodgers from the quarterback's left side.
Three plays later, on another third down, Rodgers hit Allen Lazard with a 40-yard TD pass that cut the Lions lead to 22-19.
Q. Key flag II: Flowers was flagged again for hands to the face – and another first down for the Packers – on a third-down incompletion with 1:36 left. Any explanation for getting critical flags twice?
A. No. No explanation. No excuse.
A. Of course it was a surprise. That's why they used it – to surprise the Packers with a play they haven't run before this season.
Q. Missed opportunity: The Lions didn't cash in fully on that big play. They had to settle for a field goal. What was the big breakdown?
A. Stafford fumbled on first down when fullback Nick Bawden got too close to him on a play-action fake and knocked the ball loose. That resulted in a five-yard loss. The Lions never recovered and had to settle for a field goal.
Q. Fourth and go: The Lions began their second possession with another big play – a 58-yard pass to wide receiver Marvin Hall – and finished it off on Kerryon Johnson's run into the end zone from inside the one-yard line. The Lions went for it on fourth and one. Right call?
A. Absolutely the right call – even if it hadn't worked. Which it did. The Lions had hit the Packers for two big gains. It was time to prove they could hit them in the gut with a short, but tough, run. And they did.
Q. Special help, for Packers: How much did the Lions' special teams help the Packers on their first touchdown drive?
A. Four points worth of help, that's what it was. Instead of a field goal, the Packers scored a touchdown to cut the Lions' lead to 13-7. There was a gaffe at the start of the possession and one at the end, and both hurt. Sam Martin's kickoff went out of bounds, giving Green Bay possession at the 40 to start the drive. When the Packers were set to go for a field goal on fourth down, the Lions were flagged for a penalty for too many men on the field.
The Packers took advantage of the first down to drive to a first down.
However, those two penalties did not excuse the defense from giving up first downs twice on third-down conversions.
Q. Special help, for Lions: Was it redemption for the special teams that it forced a fumble on a punt return and recovered it to set up a third-quarter goal?
A. You don't want them to make the first two mistakes – kickoff out of bounds, too many men on the field – that cost them four points. But the forced fumble by Dee Virgin and a recovery by Tavon Wilson set up Matt Prater's third field goal for a 16-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
Maybe not redemption, but it helped the cause.
Unfortunately, the Lions made too many other mistakes – too many for them to overcome.