GREEN BAY—When the Packers and Lions combined for a shootout in last year’s regular-season finale that included 86 points, 1,125 yards, 147 plays and 11 touchdown passes, it appeared the NFC North had identified its hot new rivalry of the future.
“As a quarterback, you always like shootouts; they’re fun. We scored a touchdown late in the game and thought we had it won, but (Matt) Flynn did a great job of leading them to a score,” Lions quarterback Matt Stafford said of a 45-41 loss in Week 17 last season, an offensive explosion that didn’t even include the game’s best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
So what’s happened that two teams that lit up Lambeau Field last season will be playing there Sunday night in a somewhat dimmer light?
“Our record is not where we want it to be. In the NFL, you are what your record says you are and we understand that. We’ve been in a lot of close games and haven’t come out on top, for one reason or another. We’ve got to play good enough this week to get a win,” Stafford said.
This was scheduled last spring as a prime time feature attraction, but the 4-8 Lions are out of playoff contention and that’s caused the game to lose some of its luster. This one is all about setting the stage for what will follow, which is to say a showdown for the NFC North lead in Chicago the following Sunday.
What happened to the Lions? It’s a question that’s being asked around the league. They have the league’s No. 2 overall offense behind the league’s No. 1 passing game. So why aren’t they winning?
“In the last three games, we’re one play away from winning each of those games. We’ve got to find a way to make that play during a critical part of the game,” Head Coach Jim Schwartz said.
Schwartz’ team has specialized in walk-off wins and losses this season, beginning with a walk-off win in the season opener, and culminating in consecutive walk-off losses the last two weeks. The Lions are also 1-2 in overtime games.
“We were winning some of those close games and the ball was bouncing our way,” Stafford said of the difference between this year and last year, when the Lions made it into the playoffs. “We were making some plays that we’re not making this year.”
One thing about the Lions has remained constant: They lose in Lambeau.
Do you know the last time the Lions won in Lambeau Field, Schwartz was asked?
“1981,” he said.
Not that far back, coach.
“I’m sorry, 1991,” Schwartz said.
That’s it; 21 consecutive wins by the Packers in Wisconsin (three in Milwaukee, 18 at Lambeau Field).
“That streak has been going on a lot longer than most of us have been around,” said Stafford, who was four years old when the Lions last won a game in Lambeau Field. “The only guy old enough to remember it all is (kicker Jason) Hanson. We were close last year and played really well on offense and didn’t get it done.”
Actually, the 42-year-old Hanson was still in college when the Lions won that game in ’91. Brett Favre was still in Atlanta.
“It’s a place we have to win. We have to be able to come out with late-season wins in Green Bay and getting one there would go a long way in giving us the confidence to do it in the future,” Schwartz said. Additional coverage - Dec. 5