GREEN BAY – Aside from a few lucky breaks, the defense is what gave the Packers a chance to win on Sunday.
The unit just had a breakdown at the worst possible time.
Detroit's offense had mustered very little through the first 3½ quarters of what eventually became an 18-16 loss to the Lions at Lambeau Field.
A nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, though – a march that included two huge third-down conversions – was the kind of crunch-time performance the Packers simply couldn't afford after the offense had finally seized some momentum.
"Detroit's got a good offense and they finally put together a drive," rookie cornerback Damarious Randall said. "It was at a critical time in the game. If we can play like that the rest of the season, I think we'll be good."
The Detroit Lions visited Lambeau Field for a Sunday matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Photos by Jim Biever, Packers.com.
Until the clock was under six minutes to go in the game, the Lions had managed just 207 yards. They'd gone three-and-out four times. They gained 22 yards to kick a field goal at the end of the first half, and they drove one yard for a touchdown after a long kickoff return to open the second. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's diving interception in the red zone late in the third quarter had thwarted Detroit's longest drive of the game to that point.
The defense was showing a stoutness it lacked during two rough weeks in Denver and Carolina, and when the Lions faced third-and-9 from their own 21 at the 5-minute mark, leading only 12-10 after the Packers had scored their first TD of the day, the record crowd of 78,526 was in a frenzy.
Detroit QB Matthew Stafford quieted the fans, though, stepping away from two potential sacks and finding receiver Calvin Johnson for a 13-yard gain. Four plays later, on third-and-3, receiver Lance Moore shook loose underneath and then broke two tackles on his way to a 43-yard gain, setting up the Lions' final score.
The defense had its chances to keep the Packers within a field goal of winning the game before the crazy finish, and that was tough to swallow after a solid bounce-back effort.
"What we're concerned about is today's performance, which wasn't good enough," Julius Peppers said. "The past two weeks wasn't important. Today wasn't good enough."
It wasn't on offense, either. The players were practically at a loss to explain the struggles and lack of execution. The Packers punted an unthinkable nine straight times following an opening drive for a field goal.
"I think we're all frustrated right now," guard Josh Sitton said. "It just goes to show where we're at, where we are as an offense right now. I don't know the words for it. We're not performing.
"It's every one of us. We're just not where we need to be."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers visibly showed his displeasure a number of times on a day he set career highs for attempts (61) and completions (35), but Rodgers' gestures were just a reflection of what everyone on offense was feeling.
"He's just a competitive person, so when it's going wrong, he doesn't like that," receiver James Jones said. "None of us like that."
Rodgers used two pass-catchers previously in the shadows – receiver Jared Abbrederis and tight end Justin Perillo – to finally make some things happen late. Abbrederis (four catches, 57 yards) hauled in a 32-yard pass down the sideline to set up a fourth-quarter TD pass to Richard Rodgers, and Perillo (five catches, 58 yards) caught an 11-yard TD for his first career score with 32 seconds left.
It simply wasn't enough. Jones, who was targeted just twice in those 61 attempts and did not have a reception, called on the receiving group to provide the spark the offense needs. He also said there are "no excuses" when it comes to the regular complaints the Packers were voicing to the officials for the non-calls against Detroit's defensive backs.
"The ball is there," Jones said. "We have to get it, we have to catch it, we have to do what we do with the ball after the catch. Even if they're hard catches, we have to make them."
Rodgers was off-target a number of times, but hardly any Green Bay pass-catchers escaped Sunday's game without at least one drop.
Also, the type of tough catch to which Jones referred came on the potential game-tying two-point conversion in the final minute, when Davante Adams got both hands on the ball, but Lions cornerback Crezdon Butler – signed off their practice squad just this week – got a piece of it and knocked it away.
At the end of the day, all the questions, answers and analysis come down to one thing for a struggling team.
"We need to get a good win," Sitton said. "Winning cures everything. We need to get a good win. That's what we need."