DETROIT – The Packers ended the 2017 season not resembling the usual Packers in a number of ways.
Playing with several backups on both sides of the ball and trying to salvage a .500 record, Green Bay lost a mistake-filled finale to the Lions on Sunday, 35-11 at Ford Field.
Four turnovers, a handful of dropped passes and some untimely penalties gave the Packers little chance to prevent just the second sub-.500 record in Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s 12-year tenure.
Green Bay finished 7-9 and with a lot of questions swirling about the future. McCarthy declined to address any of those issues after the game, but he clearly expected more from his team to close out 2017.
“Very disappointing loss,” McCarthy said. “Every team has play styles that are supposed to reflect where you spend your time. The way we took care of the football today was unacceptable, and it obviously had a big impact on the game.”
The Packers actually started the game very much in command, with three promising drives, beginning with a successful surprise onside kick.
But the three drives collectively produced just three points, as two of them ended in red-zone turnovers. A third-down pass from Brett Hundley bounced off running back Jamaal Williams and into the hands of Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis for an interception at the Detroit 8-yard line, and a Hundley read-option run for a first down at the Detroit 16 resulted in a fumble.
After a 54-yard touchdown pass from Lions QB Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay was followed by a muffed punt deep in Green Bay territory – Packers rookie cornerback Donatello Brown allowed himself to get blocked into return man Trevor Davis, who was trying to make a fair catch – the game started to get out of hand.
“I thought our energy was really good to start,” McCarthy said. “It wasn’t quite what it needed to be in the second half.”
When Stafford found Golden Tate all alone against zone coverage for what Tate turned into a 71-yard touchdown, Detroit was up 27-3 late in the third quarter.
Hundley threw a fourth-down TD pass to Randall Cobb but then was intercepted for a second time in the game. NFL interception leader Darius Slay got him in the fourth quarter for the Packers’ fourth turnover.
“We just didn’t take advantage of our opportunities today,” said Hundley, who finished 14-of-24 for 172 yards and a 59.7 passer rating. “We didn’t make the plays that needed to be made. We just stopped ourselves.”
That unfortunately was the theme of Hundley’s last two games after Rodgers returned for the one contest in Carolina two weeks ago. McCarthy counted six dropped passes on Sunday, bringing the offense’s two-game total to 13.
In addition, the Lions sacked Hundley four times, three by Ziggy Ansah, who also pressured Hundley into an intentional grounding penalty near his own goal line, leading to three Detroit points.
Some young players on both sides of the ball made their presence felt, as Davis caught three passes for 56 yards and running back Jamaal Williams finished a strong rookie season with 22 carries for 82 yards before needing to be evaluated for a concussion.
Outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert and cornerback Lenzy Pipkins both followed up decent showings a week ago with a few notable plays here and there.
But it wasn’t nearly enough against an efficient Stafford (20-of-29, 323 yards, three TDs, 140.4 rating) and a fast, stunting Lions pass rush, once both got going.
“We had some bad football plays, some bad mental mistakes, particularly by young guys,” McCarthy said.
“The guys that made mistakes, this is an experience they can learn from. We’ll use the offseason to grow from that and build off it.”
As for the offseason starting sooner than it has for the Packers in nine years, McCarthy will have a season-ending news conference sometime in the next few days to address the future.
McCarthy concluded by saying he never had a problem with his team’s work ethic, though he felt as a group it took longer than other years for the full week of preparation to “look the way it’s supposed to,” and for the veterans and young players to get on the same page. That was partly due to many young players being forced into action before they were ready, due to injuries.
It will all be part of McCarthy’s analysis in the coming days, weeks and months as the page eventually turns to 2018.
“It wasn’t our best football,” McCarthy said of the finish, though it applied to other stages of the season as well.
“History will tell you when you go through as many negatives as we did, we’ll be better for it.”
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