On Sunday, three turnovers by the Packers and a key fourth-quarter drive by Detroit proved to be the difference in a 7-3 loss in front of 57,659 at Ford Field that dropped Green Bay to 8-5 on the season. Green Bay played the entire second half and the final series of the first half without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who sustained his second concussion of the season on a second-quarter scramble.
With the Bears losing at New England later in the day, the Packers remained a game back of Chicago (9-4) in the NFC North race with three games left, but that was hardly much consolation for a Green Bay team that saw its 10-game winning streak against the Lions come to a frustrating end.
"The bottom line is they came out here and they kicked our butts today," wide receiver James Jones said. "We came out here and we laid down and didn't play the way we know we can play. As an offense, we scored three points.
"With the people we've got on this offense, it doesn't matter if it's the second-string quarterback or the seventh-string quarterback. With the people we've got on this offense, you don't put up three points. That's ridiculous."
The three-point performance was the fewest by Green Bay since it was shut out by New England, 35-0, on Nov. 19, 2006. The Packers registered just 258 yards of total offense, their lowest output since Week 1 of 2009 vs. Chicago, and their 13 first downs matched a season low (at N.Y. Jets in Week 8). Green Bay's three running backs combined for just 31 yards on 12 carries (2.6 avg.).
The offense appeared to be set up for a good start after Green Bay's defense forced a Detroit three-and-out on the opening possession of the game with the Lions pinned deep in their own territory. The Packers started at their own 46, but on the third play of the drive, rookie tight end Andrew Quarless fumbled after picking up 12 yards on a short pass from Rodgers, and cornerback Brandon McDonald recovered at the 28.
"You can't start the game that way with a turnover," guard Josh Sitton said. "You just can't turn the ball over period, especially when you are coming on the road versus a good football team who the whole year has been in every one of their football games. You can't give them the energy and the momentum like that by turning the ball over."
Green Bay responded with a takeaway of its own on the ensuing drive, with cornerback Tramon Williams' interception of a Drew Stanton pass in the end zone halting a Detroit scoring opportunity. Neither team was able to generate anything offensively on their respective next two series. Then, with under two minutes remaining in the opening quarter, Rodgers ran a play-action fake from the Green Bay 27 as wide receiver Greg Jennings found separation from cornerback Amari Spievey deep down the middle of the field. The pass hit Jennings in stride up high near the Detroit 30, but it bounced off his hands and into the waiting arms of Spievey.
The officials originally whistled the Lions for an illegal-contact penalty on the play, but picked up the flag, saying Rodgers had moved outside of the pocket on the throw.
"I let the team down with the big drop in the first quarter," said Jennings, who posted 52 yards receiving on four catches. "Obviously it was a momentum-changer and you just can't have that when you are playoff-caliber and you are trying to reach the playoffs and you've got bigger goals."
With just over three minutes remaining in the opening half, Rodgers dropped back to pass on second down, but tucked the ball and took it up the middle for an 18-yard pickup out to the Packers' 43. He didn't slide on the play, absorbing a glancing blow first from Spievey before linebacker Landon Johnson delivered a harder hit up high that caused Rodgers' head to hit the turf.
Rodgers was slow to get up after the run, and the Packers used their first timeout of the game following the play. Rodgers stayed under center but was dropped for a 13-yard sack on the next play. He completed a short pass to running back Brandon Jackson that came up well short of the marker on third down in what would turn out to be Rodgers' final snap of the day as he finished 7-of-11 for 46 yards and the interception.
"I don't have the specifics of exactly how he was feeling," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said when he was asked what Rodgers' reaction was after coming out of the game. "It [was] the opinion of the medical (staff) and of Aaron that it was best for him not to go."
With the game scoreless at the break, Packers' backup signal-caller Matt Flynn moved the offense down the field on the opening series of the second half. The biggest gain came on the first play of the drive as he rolled out to his left before finding Quarless for a 20-yard pickup. The duo hooked up for an 11-yard completion three plays later, but on third-and-3 at Detroit's 24, Jennings couldn't come up with a pass from Flynn near the left side of the end zone as the Packers were forced to settle for a 42-yard Mason Crosby kick that put them up 3-0.
On the next offensive series, Flynn led another methodical drive that started at the Green Bay 10. He scrambled up the middle for a 12-yard gain to pick up a third-and-10, the Packers' first third-down conversion of the day to that point on their first eight attempts, and two plays later lofted a perfectly thrown ball to Jennings down the right sideline over cornerback Chris Houston for a 32-yard pickup to the Detroit 35.
Following a short pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson that picked up 17 yards to the Lions' 9, Flynn went to Donald Driver over the middle on second-and-goal after running a play fake. But linebacker DeAndre Levy didn't bite, instead staying back to step in front of Driver and pick off the pass in the end zone.
It was the third turnover of the day for a Green Bay team that had given the ball away three times total in its last six games entering Sunday.
"The turnovers were huge," Jennings said. "Obviously the turnover in the red zone was huge. The drop/pick was huge, the fumble. You give a team three extra possessions, you are doomed."
The Lions quickly moved down the field with a deep pass down the sideline from Stanton to wide receiver Calvin Johnson accounting for 44 yards, his only reception of the day. But on third-and-4 at the Green Bay 30, safety Nick Collins came off the right side to pressure Stanton and force a pass that sailed over the head of Johnson. Green Bay kept the Lions off the scoreboard as kicker Dave Rayner's 48-yard attempt sailed wide right.
But the Packers went three-and-out on their next possession, with Flynn being dropped for a 4-yard loss on third-and-1 when he turned the wrong way on a handoff intended for running back John Kuhn.
Taking over at their own 20, the Lions put together their lone scoring drive of the game, with Stanton (10-of-22, 117 yards, 39.4 rating) posting a pair of critical third-down completions on a day that saw Detroit convert only 3-of-15 third downs. He finished off the drive with a screen to tight end Will Heller for a 13-yard touchdown as the Lions took a 7-3 lead.
Green Bay's offense would get one last chance after the defense forced a three-and-out with just over four minutes remaining. Facing a third-and-11 from their own 8, Flynn (15-of-26, 177 yards) found Jones down the seam for an 18-yard gain, and then followed that up with four straight completions for 42 yards that put the ball at the Detroit 32 with 1:29 to play.
Flynn's pass over the middle on third-and-1 intended for Driver slipped out of his hand and sailed over the veteran's head. On fourth down, Flynn elected to go deep, throwing to Jennings on the left side of the end zone, but the pass fell out of Jennings' reach as Green Bay's hopes for a game-winning drive in the closing seconds were extinguished.
"Obviously putting him in the position to bring us back in that fourth quarter, that's a lot to put on Matt," Jennings said. "We shouldn't be in that position in the first place. Matt is fully capable of playing at a high level and we trust Matt. We know what he is capable of and I think he stepped up.
"When it is all said and done, we didn't get it done as a unit and we didn't get it done as a team."