GREEN BAY – Mason Crosby had been working on his surprise onside kicks all season, but due to unfavorable playing surfaces and game situations the efforts of the Packers’ veteran kicker were mostly reserved for practice.
Looking for an early spark against the Detroit Lions, Head Coach Mike McCarthy and special-teams coordinator Ron Zook called for Crosby to throw a curveball to the Lions on the opening kickoff.
As he approached the ball, Crosby checked his momentum and squibbed the ball 10 yards ahead of the Packers’ coverage unit on the right side of the field. With Detroit caught off-guard, Packers safety Jermaine Whitehead managed to jump on the loose ball and recover it at the Green Bay 49.
“I’ve been hitting them really well in practice all year,” said Crosby, who also had a successful onside kick against Carolina two weeks ago. “We talked (on Saturday), I hit a good one in practice. Coach talked about just opening up with it. That’s what we went with. Whitehead made a great adjustment to make sure we got 10 yards and it worked when we needed it to.”
An early bright spot during Sunday’s 35-11 loss to the Lions, the Packers moved the ball down to the Detroit 21 before Brett Hundley’s pass intended for Jamaal Williams was intercepted by Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis. After Green Bay’s defense forced the three-and-out, the offense got another chance when it got the ball back at the Packers’ 32 with 8 minutes, 57 seconds left in the first quarter.
A 27-yard screen pass to Williams on that series helped set up a 41-yard field goal for Green Bay, staking the Packers to an early 3-0 lead. The momentum didn’t last, though. A medley of dropped passes, turnovers and big plays by the Lions’ offense led to Detroit seizing control of the game.
The Packers’ defense held the Lions to 51 rushing yards on 23 carries, while linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive tackle Mike Daniels each had a sack in the contest.
However, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. The four-to-zero takeaway ratio in Detroit’s favor proved too much for the Packers to overcome.
“I felt like we did some good things,” said Matthews, who led Green Bay with 8½ sacks in 14 games this season. “They had two big plays in the passing game, and they live and die on that end. Then with the turnovers on the offensive end, it was just an effort that you hate to put out there, but we did. This is the way we finished the season.”
A little of everything: Missing Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, Randall Cobb was ready to do whatever was asked of him whether it was running, catching or even throwing the football.
So the seventh-year receiver dug into his background as a quarterback in completing a 10-yard pass to quarterback Brett Hundley on a trick play to start the fourth quarter.
Known for his versatility, Cobb threw 122 passes during his time at the University of Kentucky, but had attempted only one pass in the NFL prior to Sunday. It came his rookie season in 2011, but Sunday was the first time he’d thrown a completion with the Packers.
“It was something we put in this week,” said Cobb, who also caught four passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. “It was something we wanted to run in the red zone, but we didn’t get a chance to get it in. So we tried it out.”
Cobb also caught the Packers’ only touchdown Sunday off a 17-yard pass from Hundley after lining up out of the backfield. The Packers rotated all five of their active receivers throughout the game, with Trevor Davis leading the offense with three catches for 56 yards.
Waiting game: While the Packers agreed to extensions with Adams and center Corey Linsley this past week, there are a handful of veterans who will be unrestricted free agents this offseason.
That group includes eighth-year safety Morgan Burnett, who played practically all of the Packers’ secondary positions at various points this year in addition to serving as a hybrid linebacker in the defense’s “Nitro” nickel package.
Burnett, who has started every game he’s played for the Packers since 2010, finished the year with 68 tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble in 12 games.
“Of course I want to be back with my brothers,” Burnett said. “This band, this locker room, this bond that we built, it’s fun playing with these guys. I hate that we’ve got to end it now, because now it means everyone is going to go their separate ways (for the offseason).”
Veteran cornerback Davon House also will be a free agent this offseason. A fourth-round pick in 2011, House re-signed with the Packers in March and started 12 games for Green Bay this year. Dealing with a lingering shoulder injury, House rotated with Josh Hawkins on the boundary Sunday.
“I’m excited to see what happens,” House said. “I did some good things. I feel like I got better. It sucks that I wasn’t healthy really at all this year but I toughed through a lot of things and played all right.”
Running with Williams: With Aaron Jones once again out with a knee injury, the Packers ran almost exclusively behind rookie running back Jamaal Williams, who had 22 carries for 82 yards.
He also added three catches for 31 yards, though his missed connection with Hundley resulted in an interception on the opening series. Williams left the game in the fourth quarter to be evaluated for a concussion.
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