This summer, we're looking closer at what went right and wrong during the 2012 Detroit Lions' season. In the coming weeks, we'll count down the top 10 plays which made a difference in the team's performance and record last season. Today, we reach the halfway point with an examination of number 5.
Historically, the Detroit Lions have struggled mightily against the Green Bay Packers, but never more than in 2012. In the snow, one fumble at Lambeau Field turned the tide, and at Ford Field, a play calling mishap by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan cost Detroit a shot at a win.
The Packers limped into Detroit knowing they'd have a fight from the always feisty Lions in the team's first meeting of the season. Offense would get off to a slow start in the first quarter, as Jason Hanson managed to break through with a field goal for Detroit's first score of the day. Field goals, it would turn out, would be the major talking point from this game by sundown.
It didn't look like that would be the case in the second quarter. Aaron Rodgers got things going in early, finishing off a long drive which was abusive to the Lions' defense with a pass to Jermichael Finley, who was wide open. Immediately, though, Detroit answered the statement making drive with one of their own, as Matthew Stafford got his passing game, which worked all day, going as well. Big gains to Will Heller and Calvin Johnson set Mikel Leshoure up for the touchdown scamper and a 10-7 lead. Both Green Bay and Detroit traded interceptions on their next two possessions, and the Lions dodged a fumble near the end of the quarter when Mason Crosby pushed a 50 yard field goal to the left.
Defensive fireworks began the third quarter, as Stafford was intercepted for the second time in the game, this one with much worse results. M.D. Jennings took the ball to the house for a 72 yard score, putting the Packers temporarily ahead. Johnson, though, answered for Detroit with a score of his own, putting the Lions up 17-14. In the fourth, the true excitement would begin.
Trying to even things early on, Green Bay was orchestrating a drive after stopping the Lions. When things stalled on Rodgers, the shaky right leg of Crosby was depended on again. He missed again, this time from 38 yards, preserving Detroit's three point lead. The very next drive, the Lions began to carve up the Packers through the air. Big gains to Titus Young and Ryan Broyles put Detroit within Green Bay's red zone. Leshoure had found success on the drive, leading Linehan to over-rely on him near the goal line. After being stacked up following a gain on first down, Linehan went to Leshoure again, who lost two yards. Stafford missed a throw to Young, and the Lions settled for three points.
With momentum going their way, the Packers fired the definitive strike on the next series. A long pass from Rodgers to Randall Cobb gave Green Bay a one point lead, and by the time Stafford came back on the field, Detroit had given up. Crosby finally made a field goal, giving the Packers enough breathing room to win.
Though many different people could be blamed, Linehan was the obvious choice. With the passing game working, he abandoned it in the red zone at a critical moment twice for Detroit's sputtering rushing attack. A touchdown and a two score lead likely ends the game with three minutes left. Though the Lions' offense was good in 2012, Linehan needed to be better aware of the team's strengths and weaknesses. Rushing was not a strong suit, making the choice to run Leshoure a curious one. With Reggie Bush in the fold in 2013, perhaps this will change a bit, making Linehan's choice to run the ball a bit less mysterious.
In November of last year, however, Linehan left fans fuming, lamenting what could have been after another close call against perhaps their least favorite rival.
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