Matthew Stafford did everything he could against a banged-up Green Bay Packers defense Sunday at Lambeau Field.
He just didn’t get any help.
Stafford threw for 385 yards and three touchdowns, but the Detroit Lions defense couldn’t even slow down the Packers in a 34-27 loss.
After a week where football pundits across the country wondered what was wrong with Aaron Rodgers, he shredded a Lions defense that was missing its best two players: defensive end Ziggy Ansah and linebacker DeAndre Levy.
Rodgers threw four touchdown passes in the first half, helping the Packers build a 31-3 lead, then let Eddie Lacy do the heavy lifting in the second half. Green Bay didn’t punt for the first time until the fourth quarter.
The worst thing for the Lions is that even a reasonable defensive performance probably would have been enough to win the game. Green Bay didn’t have anyone who could cover Marvin Jones, who finished with six catches for 205 yards, including touchdowns of 35 and 73 yards.
Jones’ second touchdown pulled the Lions within 34-27 with 3:34 to play, meaning Detroit could still have a good chance at a tying scoring drive if they could force the Packers into a three-and-out.
They stopped Lacy for a one-yard loss and a three-yard gain on the first two plays, calling a timeout each time. That made it 3rd-and-8 with 3:22 still on the clock. One big defensive play, and Stafford was going to have a chance to force overtime.
It didn’t happen. The Lions flushed Rodgers out of the pocket, but he scrambled for 11 yards to pick up the first down. On the next play, he hit Davante Adams for a 9-yard gain, forcing the Lions to burn their last timeout.
Lacy picked up the first down on the next play, going over the 100-yard mark, and taking the clock down to the two-minute warning. Rodgers took a knee three times and the Lions had lost at Lambeau Field for the 25th time in 26 years.
With Levy and backup Antoine Williams both out with injuries, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin ended up covering Jordy Nelson in the slot with third-string linebacker Thurston Armbrister. That looked like a disaster waiting to happen, and it was – Nelson caught six passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
Rodgers also was able to pick on Detroit’s No. 2 cornerback, Nevin Lawson. Not only were the Packers able to move the chains by hitting short passes against Lawson, he picked up one of the longest penalties in NFL history during the second quarter.
With the Packers already 21-3, Rodgers launched a bomb downfield, and Lawson was called for pass interference on the Detroit 2 – a 66-yard penalty. Rodgers hit Richard Rodgers for a touchdown on the next play, and the collapse was complete.
Without Ansah, the Lions couldn’t put any pressure on Rodgers – he was only sacked twice for four yards and scrambled five times for 22 yards, including the huge first down on Green Bay’s final drive.
According to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, that made an enormous difference. When the Lions did get pressure on Rodgers, his quarterback rating was only 50.0, but when he was able to set himself in the pocket, the rating skyrocketed to 146.1.
The problems weren’t limited to the pass defense, though. Even as Stafford was putting up points in the second half to try to fuel an improbable comeback, the Packers were able to keep running time off the clock by handing the ball to Lacy.
He averaged 6.1 yards a carry, even when the Lions knew he was coming in the second half. Losing Levy is a major factor there as well – when he’s healthy, he’s the focal point of Detroit’s run defense – but no one stepped up to fill his shoes.
Austin needs to find someone to replace both Levy and Ansah, and he needs to do it quickly. While the Lions refuse to discuss the severity of their injuries, Ansah has seen multiple specialists for his high-ankle sprain, and Levy’s column in the Detroit Free Press this week was about the frustration of dealing with a major injury.
Neither will be back next week against the Bears, and it could be several weeks until they are both in the lineup. Detroit can’t continue to hemorrhage points until they return.