GREEN BAY – It’s called the money down for a reason.
Third down is where Mike McCarthy’s thoughts were following the Packers’ 30-17 loss to the Lions on Monday night at Lambeau Field.
The numbers told the story. The Lions converted eight of 13 third-down tries for a healthy 62 percent. The Packers were just 2-of-9 for 22 percent.
That’s a lot of extended drives on one side that weren’t matched on the other.
“They totally controlled the third-down battle tonight,” McCarthy said a few moments after the Packers lost their third straight, falling to 4-4 on the season and two games behind NFC North-leading Minnesota.
“I thought that was a huge factor in the game and obviously led to the lopsided time of possession.”
The Lions controlled the ball nearly 14 more minutes than the Packers (36:55 to 23:05) as Detroit snapped a three-game losing streak to get to 4-4 as well.
The irony is the Packers converted their first third down of the game and the Lions didn’t, but other factors erased those results.
Making his second NFL start, quarterback Brett Hundley got the Packers moving on the opening drive and snuck for a first down on third-and-1. A handful of plays later, though, new long snapper Derek Hart’s field-goal snap was low, and Mason Crosby’s 38-yard try was blocked.
Detroit then faced its opening third down, needing 14 yards after two tackles for loss, and QB Matthew Stafford’s deep ball was incomplete. But Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels was flagged for a personal foul, for head-butting a Detroit lineman after the play. The “bonehead penalty,” to use McCarthy’s term, gave the Lions a reprieve they used to march for a touchdown and a lead they never gave up.
It was an ominous beginning from which the Packers never really recovered.
Including the Daniels penalty, the Lions had 152 yards on their third-down conversions, leading to a sparkling 132.4 passer rating on the night for Stafford. The Lions also never punted.
“Third down, they owned it,” McCarthy said. “You can’t have that much variance and production on both sides on third down and think you’re going to win football games. They made big plays.
“I thought Matt Stafford threw the heck out of the ball tonight. There were a lot of competitive catches. We needed to be a step better a number of times.”
Seemingly healthier coming off their bye week, the Packers didn’t stay that way. Safety Morgan Burnett, playing in his first game in a month, exited with a groin injury.
The Packers finally had their starting offensive line together again, but even that lasted only three-plus quarters. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was carted to the locker room with a knee injury McCarthy said the medical staff was “very concerned” about, and Bulaga’s replacement, Justin McCray, injured an ankle on the game’s final series.
Stafford finished 26-of-33 for 361 yards and two TDs, both to Marvin Jones Jr., one of two Detroit receivers to top 100 yards. Jones caught seven passes for 107, while Golden Tate added seven for 113.
Meanwhile, Hundley was 26-of-38 for 245 yards for an 86.0 rating, with a rushing touchdown. He played considerably better than in his first start, but it took too long for the offense to get going.
Through three quarters, all the Packers had to show for six possessions was 153 yards and a run-on field goal on the final play of the first half.
To start the second half with a failed fourth-and-2 from midfield, as Lions safety Glover Quin knifed through to bring down Randall Cobb after a quick flip from Hundley, was especially frustrating. So was going three-and-out after a fumble by Lions running back Ameer Abdullah (21 carries, 48 yards, TD) on Detroit’s next drive.
When the defense came up with a goal-line stand to start the fourth quarter, and Hundley responded by directing a 78-yard touchdown drive – highlighted by a 46-yard catch-and-run by Cobb – the Packers had pulled within 20-10 with 9:52 left.
But the defense, on the field too long already, couldn’t get off to give the offense any shot at the comeback. Stafford beat an all-out blitz with a quick screen to running back Theo Riddick, who bolted mostly untouched for 63 yards to set up Jones’ second TD catch, and the rest was academic.
“We’ve got work to do and we’ve got to do it fast,” said McCarthy, whose team is now on a short week before a trip to Chicago for another division game. “I know what we need to do to play better, and that’s the focus I have.”
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