GREEN BAY – There were two areas the Packers’ defense feels it needs to take care of to control the tempo of a game – getting off the field on third downs and winning time of possession.
When those things don’t happen, it’s going to be tough sledding for all parties involved.
That again was the case Monday night against the Detroit Lions, who converted eight of 13 third downs and held the ball for nearly 37 minutes on their way to a 30-17 win over the Packers in front of 77,575 at Lambeau Field.
The Packers forced two fumbles (recovering one) and held Detroit’s running game to only 64 yards on 33 carries (1.9 yards per attempt), but struggled to silence Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford in key situations.
The former Pro Bowler completed 26-of-33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns to receiver Marvin Jones Jr., who caught seven passes for 107 yards.
“We didn’t capitalize tonight,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “You can’t do that against these good players. Stafford, he’s a really good quarterback, and they’re a tough defense. So we have to play much better than we did tonight, and we can’t give ’em an inch because they’ll take it a mile.”
Perhaps the most maddening part for Daniels and the defense is the way the game started. The Packers forced the Lions into back-to-back plays for negative yardage before Stafford missed Golden Tate on a deep ball on third-and-14.
However, Daniels was flagged for unnecessary roughness after getting tangled up with Lions center Travis Swanson. The Lions used the penalty to begin a nine-play, 71-yard scoring series that ended in a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jones.
Daniels told reporters afterward he felt like he was held on the play he was flagged, but he apologized for the penalty nonetheless.
“I really take that upon myself because if we stop them there, then they (the Packers’ offense) get a short field, we’re definitely going to score, and now they’re behind,” Daniels said. “I let my emotions get the best of me. Obviously, the referees aren’t going to make holding calls because they feel sorry for ’em. But, nonetheless, I can’t respond. The second guy always gets caught, so stupid penalty.”
It set the tone for a long day for the Packers’ defense on the money down. Of Detroit’s 10 longest plays Monday, six of them came on third down.
Green Bay stayed within reach of the Lions thanks in part of eight tackles for loss, but the defense finished with only one sack on a combined effort from Dean Lowry and Nick Perry at the start of the third quarter.
Even then, Detroit immediately converted the first down on the next play with a 21-yard pass to Tate, who finished with a game-high 113 receiving yards.
Still only down 17-3 midway through the third quarter, the Packers got the turnover they were looking for when Damarious Randall recovered a fumble Jake Ryan forced from Ameer Abdullah, but their offense wasn’t able to turn it into points.
In the end, the Lions held onto the ball for a combined 23 minutes, 20 seconds in the second and third quarters to seize control of the contest.
“I think the whole day third down was an issue for us,” Lowry said. “That’s just one play but I think the whole game we did not do a very good job at that. I think it’s easy to pick out a play here or play there, but overall it wasn’t good enough on third down.”
If that wasn’t enough, Green Bay lost its key communicator, safety Morgan Burnett (five tackles, two for a loss), who exited with a groin injury in the second half and didn’t return.
Already playing without Kentrell Brice, the Packers mixed and matched their defensive personnel late, shifting between their traditional nickel sub-package and their “nitro” package with rookie Josh Jones at inside linebacker and Marwin Evans at safety.
Linebacker Blake Martinez, who led Green Bay with 10 tackles, took over the communication helmet when Burnett exited. He also was responsible for forcing another Abdullah fumble at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Packers weren’t able to recover it the second time.
The Lions executed on the opportunities they were given, producing 417 total yards and averaging 10.4 yards per pass play.
As the Packers turn their sights to next Sunday’s game in Chicago, they know time is of the essence. Although there are still eight games remaining, the defense needs to shore up in the game’s most critical situation on third down.
“It’s just little mistakes,” Martinez said. “Those type of things are going to crush you throughout. All the other third downs we had chances, we just have to make a play and step up. Someone on every single play has a chance whether it’s thrown to you or you’re in a rush or you’re disguising or doing anything, you have a chance.”
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