This season the Detroit Lions have ended a playoff drought that lasted more than a decade. On Sunday, they’d love to end another ignominious streak that has lasted two decades.
The Lions haven’t won a game in the state of Wisconsin since 1991. That’s a streak of 20 games, including one playoff contest. Two of the games were played in Milwaukee (1993 and ’94) and the other 18 at Lambeau Field.
The streak has spanned eight Detroit head coaches, including current leader Jim Schwartz. The regular-season streak of 19 straight road losses to the same opponent is the longest in NFL history. Including playoffs, the 20-gamer is second to a 21-game streak that, coincidentally, also involves Detroit. The Lions have never won in the history of their franchise at Washington, a span of 18 regular-season and three postseason games.
All of that is sidebar information to this Sunday’s regular-season finale. More than ending their Wisconsin drought, the Lions will be trying to clinch the No. 5 seed for the NFC playoffs. The Packers have already clinched home-field advantage for the playoffs and are seeking safe passage into the postseason.
“There’s not a lot of that talk,” Packers quarterback Matt Flynn said of the Lions’ Wisconsin woes. “That’s in the past. This team has a lot to look forward to and a lot ahead of us.”
In other words, the Packers are more concerned, and rightly so, with the upcoming postseason. Getting their team ready for the playoffs, whether that means resting some players or getting others sharp on Sunday, is far more important than a statistical anomaly like the streak.
That could help Detroit end it, of course. Not only are the Lions bringing their best team in years to Lambeau, but several Packers starters may depart the game early or not play at all. Head Coach Mike McCarthy knows his plan for Sunday, but he isn’t revealing it ahead of time.
When Green Bay rested players in a similar situation four years ago in the regular-season finale, it didn’t matter. The Packers still won, 34-13, but that was a sub-.500 Lions team.
This one is much more formidable, and with the possibility they could be returning to Lambeau Field in two weeks in the playoffs, the Lions would probably rather not have the streak be the topic of the week heading into a postseason showdown.
Of all years, the Lions nearly ended the streak last season, when the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl. Green Bay escaped with a two-point win in Week 4, one of many close calls since ’91. It was the 12th of the 20 games decided by 10 or fewer points.
Here, by subjective analysis, are the five times the Lions have come closest to ending the streak, in reverse chronological order:
Oct. 3, 2010 (28-26) – Last year, the Packers took a 28-14 lead in the third quarter on Charles Woodson’s pick-six, but the Lions rallied for four field goals and drove to the Green Bay 37-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Woodson responded with a tackle and two pass break-ups, though, and the Packers offense ran out the final 6:32 to hang on.
Dec. 11, 2005 (16-13 OT) – Detroit led 13-3 after one quarter but didn’t score again in what became a strange game. The Packers rallied to tie and then kept it that way with a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter that included stuffing Lions QB Jeff Garcia on a fourth-down sneak. Then, with the Packers backed up, the Lions thought they had a safety when running back Samkon Gado was caught in the end zone and desperately flung the ball forward. But Gado wasn’t ruled down or called for intentional grounding in the end zone. He was ruled to have been outside the pocket and, therefore, eligible to throw the ball away. So the incomplete pass kept the game tied, the Packers won the coin toss in overtime, and drove for a winning field goal.
Dec. 12, 2004 (16-13) – On a snowy, blustery day, the Packers trailed 13-0 as Brett Favre completed just three of 15 passes for 28 yards in the first half. But Favre recovered to go 16-of-21 for 160 yards in the second half, leading the Packers to 16 straight points, including the game-winning field goal with two seconds left.
Dec. 31, 1994 (16-12) – In the NFC Wild Card playoff game, the Packers defense held Barry Sanders to minus-1 yard on 13 carries, but Detroit was still within 16-10 and drove to the Green Bay 11 in the closing moments before losing the ball on downs.
Nov. 6, 1994 (38-30) – In the final game of the rivalry played in Milwaukee, the Lions rallied from a 24-point halftime deficit behind QB Dave Krieg, a Wisconsin native, but the comeback ended at the Green Bay 15-yard line with a minute left.
Injury update: Left tackle Chad Clifton remains on track to get his first game action since Week 5, an opportunity he’s looking forward to after missing the past 10 games with hamstring and back injuries.
“I feel pretty good out there,” Clifton said after practicing on a limited basis on Thursday. He returned to the practice field for the first time last week.
“As far as the rust level, I feel like my pass sets are pretty good. Maybe the first couple days last week, I might have been a little rusty, but it’s coming around.”
McCarthy said how Clifton performs in Sunday’s game and again next week during practice will determine his status for the postseason.
“The open week will answer those questions,” McCarthy said. “We have time to get a clear picture of how we’re going to line up for the divisional playoff.”
Meanwhile right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) returned to practice Thursday for individual work in full pads after missing last week’s game. How he responds on Friday, when he’ll be re-evaluated, will set the course for him, but McCarthy indicated there’s some “resistance from the medical staff” regarding Bulaga, so he may be held out of Sunday’s game.
Tight end Jermichael Finley (knee) may be in the same boat. He was limited in practice on Thursday after missing Wednesday’s workout, and McCarthy said he’d be limited again on Friday. Additional coverage - Dec. 29