The referees didn't beat the Detroit Lions.
One could even argue that the Green Bay Packers weren't completely responsible for their improbable 27-23 win.
Unfortunately, when the Lions look back on this season and think about the ones that got away—presumably while listening to Drake—no loss will stick in their collective craw more than this season-ending blunder. And the reason is simple: The Lions let it slip through their hands.
Yes, the Packers took advantage of Detroit's mistakes and earned a win, but this game would have never been in doubt if the Lions didn't take their foot off the pedal and stick their heads in a certain inauspicious place.
Blocking Is Important
There were more than a few plays that left Lions fans shaking their heads, but there was one particular mental error that probably caused a few concussions in the stands from all of the head-shaking.
Detroit was looking to answer Green Bay's first touchdown with at least a first down or two to take control of the game. Instead, Packers defensive end Julius Peppers swooped around the left side for an easy strip-sack that changed everything.
Peppers just ran by Reiff on that play, swatted the ball out of Stafford's hands. Packers ball at the Lions 12-yard line— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) December 4, 2015
The Packers brought a look of heavy pressure on the play. There were blitzers ready to charge inside, causing the Lions to prepare for multiple charging defenders. It's understandable to expect a little chaos.
However, left tackle Riley Reiff—who actually had a pretty solid game—blanked on his responsibility, which was Peppers. And it was obvious from the defensive alignment that he would be coming hard off the edge.
Instead of getting depth and playing for the edge rush, Reiff was slow off the line as if preparing for a different mode of attack. The result was an easy, game-changing play for the formerly silent Peppers. Green Bay then scored a few plays later to cut the lead to six.
But so Is Aggression
The Lions lost right tackle Michael Ola, and former starter-turned-reserve LaAdrian Waddle's two penalties were cringe-worthy. But the bigger issue was offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who lost his resolve soon after halftime, as the Lions gained just 78 yards in the second half.
Yet that wasn't his worst transgression.
With the Lions looking for just one first down to end the game after Matthew Stafford's laser to T.J. Jones for a critical third-down conversion, Cooter went to Joique Bell three straight times. That's exactly what you were hoping for if you were a Packers fan.
None of those plays ever threatened to get past the line of scrimmage, much less gain the 10 yards necessary for the game-ending kneel-down.
Lions might as well throw it a couple times here and try to get that first down. If Rodgers gets the ball back, Green Bay's scoring.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) December 4, 2015
The Lions were in a position to win this game because they trusted Stafford to make the right plays all night. At the bare minimum, Cooter should have put the ball in Stafford's hands on 3rd-and-12, trusting him to either win the game or eat the ball and keep the clock running.
But Cooter—or perhaps head coach Jim Caldwell—was content to kill time and give the ball back to last year's MVP. And we all saw how well that worked out. It was the perfect example of no gumption, no glory.
The Last Play
There will be plenty of arguments over the next 10 months or so about Devin Taylor's unfortunate facemask penalty. Yet that play resulted in zero points.
The real culprit was Detroit's incompetence on the Aaron Rodgers-to-Richard Rodgers Hail Mary that saved Green Bay's season.
For starters, Caldwell opted against using jump-ball guru Calvin Johnson on a surefire long bomb. His reasoning won't make sense regardless of how many times one mulls it over:
Caldwell said C.Johnson wasn't on field bc of possible pitch play: "We had plenty of guys back there. We just didn't make a play. They did."— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) December 4, 2015
Well, he is right about that.
Look at Richard Rodgers standing all by himself at the goal line while the Lions are all pretty deep in the end zone pic.twitter.com/6ooCaKySFm— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) December 4, 2015
As you can clearly see, none of the Detroit defenders thought to pick up the trailer, who is almost always the guy who catches such crazy passes. And even if that wasn't the truth, the Lions had two players chilling 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, neither helping to rush the passer or break up the long bomb, as Will Brinson of CBS Sports pointed out in a scathing critique.
However, that's the type of season it's been in Motown. Inexcusable plays and befuddling decisions have been the theme of the 2015 Lions, and both are to blame for what is the final nail in the Lions' slim playoff hopes.