Packers, Lions both have late-game issues to fix

The two defenses didn’t finish well in the fourth quarter of Week 1

Packers defense

GREEN BAY – If Matt LaFleur has uttered it once since Sunday, he's done so a half-dozen times.

"They gave us everything we could handle last year," LaFleur said, referring to the Lions.

And if LaFleur has been repeating that message to the media, he's almost certainly delivering it to his team as well, reminding them the film of last year's clashes means a lot more than Detroit's 3-12-1 record from 2019.

The Packers didn't lead the Lions in either of last year's two games until Mason Crosby booted walk-off field goals to capture two crucial victories.

LaFleur exaggerated slightly when he said "they were winning for literally 120 minutes out of 120 minutes" – the two games were actually tied at different junctures for a total of 18 minutes, 13 seconds – but whether trailing for 120 minutes or 102, the point still resonates.

The Packers will have their hands full again, and if there's reason to expect Sunday's Week 2 matchup at Lambeau Field to come down to the wire as well, it's this: Both teams struggled mightily on defense in the fourth quarter in Week 1.

That could set the stage for more drama as the Packers look to start 2-0 while the Lions fight to avoid 0-2.

Detroit's late defensive letdowns in the opener proved more costly, of course, as the Lions let a game get away to the Bears. After having allowed just six points through the first 42-plus minutes, the Lions' defense had the Bears in third-and-10 from their own 41-yard line with 2½ minutes left in the third quarter.

One clutch conversion got Chicago rolling, and from there the Bears put together touchdown drives of 59 and 55 yards, and then hit a 27-yard touchdown pass after a Detroit turnover to claim their first lead with just under two minutes left.

In between the two longer TD drives was one Bears punt, thanks to a big third-down sack by Detroit's Trey Flowers, but even on that drive Chicago had reached the edge of field-goal range before getting turned back.

Little went right down the stretch for Detroit's defense, which also committed two penalties to surrender 20 free yards.

The Packers' performance wasn't much better, except Green Bay's offense kept answering Minnesota's scores, so the win was never really in jeopardy.

But after a dominant second quarter that featured a safety, third-down sack and interception, and two third-quarter stops – including a fourth-and-3 in Green Bay territory – the Packers' defense lost its handle on things.

Vikings QB Kirk Cousins directed three straight touchdown drives covering 77, 65 and 75 yards. Most concerning, Minnesota was gaining big chunks of yardage (five pass completions of 17-plus, including two of the TDs) and needed only five minutes, 21 seconds of time on the clock to score three times.

Safety Adrian Amos said the miscues come down to "little things that we can iron out," and that discipline with assignments is the key fix. But having them compound drive after drive after solid play through the middle two quarters didn't sit well at all.

"When we have total control of the game, let's not give the control back," defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said. "Let's kind of understand in order to be a dominant defense, you can't give up explosive plays. You sure can't give up easy plays in situations that we should be in control of."

It appeared when the Vikings went to the hurry-up offense, down 29-10 at the end of the third quarter, the Packers couldn't match their tempo. One false or slow step here or there, and the Vikings were breaking open for those big gains.

"The second half, we kind of got out of whack," said veteran inside linebacker Christian Kirksey, who made his Packers debut. "We have to eliminate big plays, splash plays. Also, we have to do better in the red zone."

Minnesota also cashed in on two-point conversions after all three touchdowns, two of them with relative ease.

The late-game breakdowns are especially concerning with Detroit QB Matthew Stafford this week's opponent. Last September, before getting injured, Stafford chalked up his 28th career fourth-quarter comeback victory, moving into the top 10 in NFL history in the category and tying with none other than Hall of Famer Brett Favre.

He should have earned his 29th last week, too, driving the Lions down the field in the last two minutes after the defense surrendered the lead, only to have the winning TD pass bounce off rookie running back DeAndre Swift's hands in the end zone with six seconds left.

So rest assured, LaFleur has added that to his message this week, too.

"This is a really good Detroit Lions team that, quite frankly, should have won last week," he said. "There's no doubt about it, and they definitely could have beat us twice last year. So you know we've got a big task in front of us."

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