GREEN BAY — A going-nowhere offense. A defense that couldn’t come up with a timely stop. Frustrated fans voicing their displeasure. It almost felt like a pre-Barry Alvarez Camp Randall Stadium in the late 1980s. All that was missing was the chant of “We came to see the band!”
And truth be told, if you made the trip to Lambeau Field Monday night for the Green Bay Packers’ 30-17 loss to the Detroit Lions, the highlight probably was the University of Wisconsin marching band, which played the national anthem, performed at halftime and held an abbreviated Fifth Quarter afterward.
Because the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers certainly weren’t very entertaining in their third consecutive loss since their two-time NFL MVP quarterback broke his right collarbone at Minnesota on Oct. 15.
With backup quarterback Brett Hundley rarely throwing the ball downfield — be it by choice or by head coach Mike McCarthy’s design — and the defense allowing one frustrating third-down conversion after another, the Packers never generated any sustainable momentum and looked very much like a lost team without its superstar for all the world to see on national television on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
The loss dropped the Packers to 4-4, while the Lions improved to 4-4 and snapped a three-game losing streak of their own.
“We have work to do, and that’s the fact of the matter,” McCarthy said afterward. “And we’ve got to do it fast.”
On Friday, Rodgers expressed hope that his Oct. 19 surgery — in which a plate was affixed to his collarbone with a series of screws — would allow the bone to heal quickly enough for him to return this season. Placed on injured reserve the day after his surgery, Rodgers said the Packers would need to stay in playoff contention for a return to “make sense,” however, and based on Monday night’s performance, it’s hard to envision Green Bay staying in the mix while Rodgers recovers.
When Rodgers broke his left collarbone in 2013, the Packers lost the game in which he was injured and the two that followed. After tying the Vikings, they went 2-2 in their next four games, allowing Rodgers to return to the regular-season finale and lead them to a last-minute victory that sent them to into the postseason.
The 2017 group, coming off a bye week during which McCarthy and his staff had ample time to hatch a game plan that played to Hundley’s strengths — whatever the coaches believed those to be — instead resulted in another disappointing performance that contained only a handful of quality moments.
The Green Bay defense allowed the Lions to convert on 8-of-13 third-down situations (62 percent) and never forced a single punt in the game. The Lions became the first NFL team this season to go a full game without a punt — something that happened a few times a year with the Packers with Rodgers at quarterback — while quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 26-of-33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns (132.4 rating).
The Packers offense, meanwhile, converted only 2-of-9 third-down situations (22 percent) and scored a touchdown on an untimed down at the end of the game to improve the cosmetics of the final score.
“Third down, they owned it,” McCarthy said. “You can’t have that much variance in production on third down and think you’re going to win football games.”
Hundley finished his night 26-of-38 for 245 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a passer rating of 86.0 — a statistical improvement over his first two games (combined passer rating: 40.5). The Packers offense managed only one big play: A 46-yard Randall Cobb catch-and-run that led to their first touchdown.
“Explosive plays are huge in this game, in the NFL. That, field position and turnovers are a big part of this game,” Hundley said. “We’ve got to get ourselves rolling and execute. We left a lot on the field tonight. And I think everybody knows that.”
It didn’t look like it would be such an ugly night early on, however, as McCarthy took the ball — breaking from his usual M.O. of deferring — after winning the coin toss. The Packers embarked on a 14-play, balanced drive during which they drove from their own 22-yard line to the Lions’ 23 with a mix of quick passes and effective runs by Hundley and halfback Aaron Jones, including an 8-yard Jones scamper on a read-option play.
But the drive stalled when Hundley was sacked for a 2-yard loss on first down, had to throw the ball away on second down and threw short of the sticks on third down. The drive ended up being an empty one when a low snap from new long-snapper Derek Hart contributed to Mason Crosby’s missed 38-yard field goal.
The Lions took the ball and — with the help of a boneheaded 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Mike Daniels after the defense held on third-and-14 for what should have been a three-and-out — drove for a 25-yard Matthew Stafford-to-Marvin Jones touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Green Bay’s offense went three-and-out on its next two possessions, and the Lions extended their lead to 14-0 with a nearly 7-minute drive that ended in a 4-yard Ameer Abdullah touchdown run.
The Packers showed some signs of life just before halftime, as Hundley worked the 2-minute drill to get the offense in position for a 35-yard Crosby field goal as time expired to make it 14-3.
But the Lions got those three points back on the opening series of the third quarter while Hundley and the Packers offense couldn’t sustain a drive.
A 46-yard Randall Cobb catch-and-run set up Hundley’s 1-yard quarterback sneak, which cut the lead to 20-10 with 9: 52 left in the game, but the Packers defense couldn’t come up with a turnover or three-and-out to make things interesting.
Instead, the Lions caught defensive coordinator Dom Capers in a blitz call with a screen pass to Theo Riddick that went for 63 yards. Two plays later, Stafford hit Jones again for an 11-yard TD to make it 27-10 and send much of the announced crowd of 77,575 into beat-the-traffic mode. Most of the stadium bowl was empty when rookie halfback Jamal Williams scored from a yard out on the final play of the game.
“I thought we had a very good week of practice. We did not play as well as Detroit tonight, and that’s stating the obvious,” McCarthy said. “As far as how you win or how you lose in this league, you have to have consistency. I know what we have to do to play better.”