Green Bay, Wis. — A red-hot start for the Detroit Lions ended in an even hotter seat for coach Matt Patricia. The team coughed up its second double-digit lead in as many weeks, and fourth going back to last season, getting obliterated on the road by the Green Bay Packers, 42-21 on Sunday.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first time in NFL history a team has blown four straight games while holding a double-digit lead.
“Obviously, we’re doing a good job starting fast,” Patricia said. “Certainly in a year that’s unusual, that energy, that focus, all of it, it’s just gotta come through for 60 minutes. We can’t ride the wave of the game. We can’t go up and down and be really high and then something happens and then go really low and then try to pick it back up.
“Just the ebbs and flows of the game, we’ve got to ignore that,” Patricia said. “We’ve got to stay consistent. We’ve got to not think about the end result before we get to the end result. We’ve got to think about that play at that moment and stay in that moment. That’s something we have to do.”
The Lions seemed to be in the moment early in the contest, jumping out to a 14-3 lead after one quarter.
Taking the opening kickoff, Detroit efficiently drove down the field to grab an early lead. Quarterback Matthew Stafford connected on all three of his throws, including a 29-yard catch-and-run by tight end T.J. Hockenson, but it was the ground game that polished off the series. Kerryon Johnson took three straight handoffs in the red zone, punching it in from a yard out on the third to give the Lions a quick 7-0 edge.
“As a running back, I always feel like the ball should be in the running back’s hands,” Johnson said. “I always feel the ball should be in my hands. So, it felt good to really get that drive and take that drive and go down the field and punch it in.”
The Packers responded with a field goal, converting a fourth-and-6 near midfield before kicker Mason Crosby banged home a 43-yard boot.
Detroit countered the jab with a stiff uppercut, impressively marching the length of the field again. Two third-down conversions set up a 25-yard run by Adrian Peterson into the red zone. Stafford then found Marvin Jones from four yards out on third-and-goal to extend the lead, 14-3.
But it was all downhill from there.
The Packers quickly chopped the lead back to four with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Running back Aaron Jones was the focal point of the offense on the series, gaining 54 yards on four carries and two receptions, including a 7-yard score to cap the action.
BOX SCORE: Packers 42, Lions 21
After the two sides traded punts through the middle of the second quarter, the Packers grabbed their first lead of the game late in the first half. Aided by back-to-back 15-yard penalties committed by Lions safety Will Harris, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected with tight end Robert Tonyan from 11 yards out to put the Packers up, 17-14.
“Obviously, the penalties, all the way across the board, all of them are no good,” Patricia said. “All of them are things we know we have to prevent. If you want to win, you’ve gotta eliminate the penalties. It’s pretty simple.”
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The Lions had a chance to tie the game heading into the locker room, but Matt Prater sent a 57-yard field goal attempt wide right as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Coming out of the half, the Packers wasted little time blowing the game open. On the first snap of the third quarter, Jones burst up the gut for a 75-yard touchdown run. Lions linebackers Jarrad Davis and Jamie Collins were well blocked to open the lane and Harris took a bad angle, resulting in the long score.
“For us, it all starts up front,” Jones said. “Those guys did a great job of coming out and just getting after it, opening up lanes. Big Dog (tight end Mercedes Lewis), he told me, ‘Just stay with it.’ At first, it was a lot of 5-yard carries, five, four, three and he was like, ‘You’re going to bust that big one, just stay with it.’ He manifested it and it happened.”
The suddenly listless Lions offense sputtered with their first possession of the half, going three-and-out, punting the ball back to the Packers.
Green Bay did its part to temporarily keep Detroit in the game, blowing a red-zone opportunity with a penalty, two drops and a sack, but the Lions couldn’t take advantage of the gift. After getting the ball back on a punt, Stafford was intercepted on the first play of the ensuing drive.
The play broke down early after Peterson whiffed while attempting to block Packers defensive end Rashan Gary (Michigan), forcing Stafford to rush his throw to Danny Amendola. Packers cornerback Chandon Sullivan read the play, jumped the route and picked off the pass, returning it 7 yards for a touchdown.
“The coaches had just been breaking down those route combinations all week,” Sullivan said. “It was a combination of them putting us in the right place with the right call and I was just able to make a play on the ball.”
The sequence put the Packers up three scores, 31-14, midway through the third quarter. Another Crosby field goal before the end of the frame extended the edge to 20.
The Lions snapped the Packers’ 31-point run with a touchdown two minutes into the fourth quarter. Stafford delivered a bullet to Marvin Hall from 24 yards out, capping an eight-play, 75-yard drive, The score cut Detroit’s deficit to 13.
But any hopes of a rally were short-lived. The Packers needed seven plays to return to the end zone with Jones running it in from 14 yards out, putting an exclamation point on a career day for the back. His 168 yards rushing and 236 yards from scrimmage were both personal bests.
The Lions’ loss puts Patricia’s future with the franchise on shaky ground. The coach, who entered the season with an ultimatum from ownership to contend for the playoffs or lose his job, now faces the unenviable uphill climb of digging out of an 0-2 hole, compounded by the fact both defeats came at the hands of division opponents.
Stafford completed 20 of 33 passes for 244 yards. Peterson had seven carries for 41 yards, and Johnson totaled 32 yards on eight rushes, with his one TD.
Hockenson caught four passes for 62 yards and D’Andre Swift five for 60. Swift’s five carries netted 12 yards.
The Lions will try to get on track next week when they travel to Arizona to play the Cardinals.
Here are records of the last four Lions coaches through their first 34 regular-season games:
Rod Marinelli: 10-24
Jim Schwartz: 10-24
Jim Caldwell: 19-15
Matt Patricia: 9-24-1