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Packers’ difficult year reaches rough finish

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GREEN BAY – Disappointing season, disappointing finish.

There’s not much else to say after the Packers were blanked, 31-0, by the Lions in their 2018 finale on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers left the game early with a concussion with the Packers already down two touchdowns, and Green Bay never mounted anything resembling the comeback against the Jets from a week ago with backup QB DeShone Kizer.

The result, with both teams playing with a number of backups on both sides of the ball, was a resounding dud of a game that ended the Packers’ season at 6-9-1.

“They outcoached us, outplayed us, tackled better, blocked better,” said interim head coach Joe Philbin, who finished 2-2 in charge of the team over the final month. “They outplayed us today, no doubt.”

That includes the three offensive series Rodgers was in the game, none of which gained a first down. Philbin wasn’t sure which play produced Rodgers’ concussion, but the Packers QB got his helmet ripped off on a sack on the offense’s second snap, so that certainly appeared to be it.

Rodgers stayed in the game for two more series, and Philbin talked to him on the sideline after each possession, saying he “seemed OK.” But then Rodgers headed to the locker room for a concussion evaluation and never returned.

By the time Kizer entered, the Lions had scored on two straight drives, the second culminating in a fake field goal for a touchdown and 14-0 lead. Detroit kicker Matt Prater took a direct snap and lofted an 8-yard TD pass to tight end Levin Toilolo, who had lined up by his lonesome along the boundary, and the Packers never saw him until it was too late.

An 86-yard touchdown drive by Detroit (6-10), led by Zach Zenner on the ground, pushed the Lions’ halftime lead to 21-0, this from a team that hadn’t scored more than 17 points in any of its last five games.

Zenner piled up 93 yards rushing by day’s end, while quarterback Matthew Stafford posted an efficient 109.6 passer rating (20-of-32, 266 yards), throwing two touchdowns to T.J. Jones. Receiver Brandon Powell hit the century mark with 103 yards on six catches.

The Packers’ offense never got them back in it. Kizer connected on a few strong throws but not regularly enough, going 16-of-35 for 132 yards and an interception on a desperation third-down pass (44.0 rating).

“We just didn’t have any rhythm,” Philbin said. “I have to do a better job calling plays, getting some first downs, getting some momentum going.

“That doesn’t help create good energy, good juice on the sideline. We couldn’t get the running game going at all. It felt like we were in second-and-long, third-and-long a lot.”

The Packers converted just 5-of-16 third downs (31 percent), continuing their season-long troubles on the money down. The touchdown on the fake field goal was another example of the ongoing struggles on special teams failing to ever turn around in a long year.

The offense also missed twice on fourth down in scoring territory, unable to avoid the team’s third home shutout over the last 13 months, all with backup quarterbacks.

“There’s work to be done,” Kizer said. “Your job is to perform to the best of your abilities and put your team in the best position to win games in the fourth quarter, and we fell short of that today.”

Another disappointment was the absence of receiver Davante Adams to a knee injury. Adams was on the verge of the franchise single-season records for receptions and yards, but didn’t get the chance to cap his sensational season by making team history.

Philbin, who may get an interview for the permanent head coaching position in the next week, was looking for a strong 3-1 finish under his charge that might have helped his candidacy, especially after last week’s comeback win.

That never materialized, as Philbin and the rest of Green Bay’s coaching staff now head into a very uncertain offseason, with immense change on the horizon for the Packers.

“I told them I was very appreciative of the things they did all season, and the four weeks I was leading them,” Philbin said of his final message to the 2018 team. “We’ll get together tomorrow, have a brief team meeting and go from there.

“There’s a great future here, a lot of great players in that locker room. They’ll take some time and come back strong.”

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