Written by: JT Bowen
The Lions just couldn’t resist.
They Lions-ed, again.
They did it in Week 1, in a regrettable collapse to Arizona. They managed to dodge their inevitable fate for a few weeks with some surprising wins, a near-victory to Kansas City, and a bye week, but they couldn’t stay away for too much longer, and finally succumbed in Lambeau on Monday night, on display for all of America to see.
After we thought that maybe, perhaps, this team might be onto something. That they were looking to rewrite long-standing narratives and prove that they were for real this year. That they could go into a hostile environment, go out and get a gutty win over a rival and show that they were a true threat in the division.
Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions too fast — there were plenty of positives to take away from Detroit’s loss to Green Bay, and the Lions led for about 58 minutes against a team that’s thought to be of the league’s best, but at the end of the day, it’s a crucial, disheartening loss.
The Lions opened the game firing on all cylinders, at one point leading 13-0 in the early second quarter after some big throws from Matt Stafford and some great defensive play. But even with the two-score lead, we could still see the framework for collapse being laid out. A dropped TD by TJ Hockenson, leading to a field goal. Another empty red-zone trip that resulted in a field goal, and an incredible special teams gaffe that allowed the Packers to turn a would-be field goal into a gifted touchdown (John Bonamego’s seat is ablaze). All things considered, if the Lions had scored a touchdown on at least one of the two aforementioned drives and kept the Packers to three points, that’s an eight-point spread, a number of points that would’ve altered the game entirely.
And the Lions spiraling-out persisted into the second half, as the Lions failed to find the end zone and punted the ball many times. Point blank, the Lions offense couldn’t get it done today. The running game, after a breakout against Kansas City, faltered against a weak Packers run defense. The play calling became stale and conservative, almost Cooteresque, as the Lions couldn’t burn the Packers ailing secondary as they did early on. Matt Prater was the lifeblood of the offense, banging through five field goals, two of which were over 50 yards, but the Lions’ inability to reach paydirt and instead of settling for field goals was the team’s ultimate demise.
The Lions truly should’ve won this game. Between the numerous dropped touchdowns by Green Bay pass-catchers, outgaining the Packers 3-0 in turnovers, and holding Aaron Rodgers to an average performance, (that jet sweep does not count as a passing touchdown in my book) the Lions played just about well enough to almost pull off a massive divisional victory.
Detroit truly shot themselves in the foot in this game and was exposed by a good team and longtime Lion-slayer. In a world where the highly-touted 8th overall pick, often called the next Gronk, catches an easy touchdown, or where the Lions can punch in a touchdown on even one of their five field goal-ending drives, the Lions would be firmly in command of the NFC North, comfortably in first place and proven as a real contender in the entire conference. Instead, they find themselves in a familiar position, at the division’s basement, searching for closure, for the forbidden elixir to no longer become their own enemy, to get out of their own way, and to turn close, crushing losses to meaningful victories.
But, on a completely different note, the officiating is an indubitably monumental issue that will continually plague the NFL. Referees, not just with the Lions, repeatedly botch vital, game-changing calls, seemingly on a weekly basis. Of course, it was fully displayed tonight, in a nationally-televised matchup, as the most questionable calls, or lack thereof, came late in a tight game, but almost every week it seems as though an officiating crew misses a blatant pass interference, stupid roughing the passer, or, in our case, a phantom hands to the face penalty.
I’m not going to say that the referees lost this game for the Lions. Detroit had every chance to win this one, and simply couldn’t. However, the officiating was unmistakably awful down the stretch and greatly assisted the Packers in emerging victorious.
Chris Burke of the Athletic concisely summed up exactly how I feel, tweeting “Matt Patricia is going to say that you can’t put yourself in position to be burned by a call, and the Lions can absolutely blame themselves for leaving points on the table tonight.”
“But counterpoint, good lord.”
There’s no way of getting around the facts that the refs completely hosed the Lions this week. The two hands to the face flags on Trey Flowers in the late fourth will stand as the figurehead of the poor refereeing in this game, but a missed interference call on Marvin Jones, questionable call on the Allen Lazard touchdown (watch the pylon cam), and critical incompletions that, upon further review, could go either way in today’s league, undoubtedly aided the Lions in their self-induced meltdown. And it’s not just Lions media berating the state of NFL officiating; multiple analysts and reporters, including Monday Night Football’s Booger McFarland, assailed the refereeing of the game and the evident need for change.
In the end, this will show up as a black mark in the Win-Loss column, just like Week 4’s matchup with the Chiefs. But unlike that game, where, come Week 15 or 16, we’ll have forgotten that it was a “moral victory”, this match will be fervently memorable in the minds of all Detroit fans, assuredly holding massive playoff implications down the line. More notably, though, it will join the long, extensive, steadily-growing line as another game unmistakably impacted by incompetent adjudication.