One of these two teams was going to leave the field in utter embarrassment Sunday.
The Lions were trying to avoid being the first team ever to lose all 16 regular season games. Only one other team, the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had even finished 0-14; only a handful had ever ended a season without a win, and most of them had managed to at least tie someone.
On the other hand, many teams have finished with just one win, including the 2007 Miami Dolphins, who have gone from 1-15 to 11-5 and AFC East division champions. So Detroit could be a footnote in history and know there had been a precedent for a turn-around.
Instead, they are a headline in history and know they will be unfavourably compared to the worst team of all time. For the record, there is no comparison of how bad this team is to how bad those Buccaneers were. The average score for the Lions was about 32-17; the average score for the 1976 Bucs was about 27-9—ratios of less than 2:1 vs. 3:1.
That Bucs team actually went 0-26 before getting the franchise's first win. This Lions team has gone 1-23, however, and does not have the excuse that they are an expansion franchise.
William Clay Ford ran this team like he ran his company: right into the ground. Matt Millen may have been his driver, but he did not have to give Millen a contract extension three seasons ago—there was plenty of evidence that he was incompetent before then.
But I will leave that to a Lions writer to outline, since the least they should be able to do is get the credit for such analyses in return for having to live through those bunglings. Instead, let me switch my focus to how bad this would have been had the Packers lost:
- Losing six straight games to end the season
- Falling from the NFC North division lead (albeit at 5-5) to the seventh-worst record in the league
- Being the team that stopped the Lions from history
- Losing for the first time to the Lions at home in 17 years
- Finishing with a losing record at home
- Losing a game in which we were a double-digit favourite
This does not compare to what the Lions were facing, but it is bad enough. And contending teams are not supposed to face such embarrassment unless they are in Dallas (Cowboys, Mavericks, Stars before last year, even the Rangers when they have contended).
Moreover, I have little doubt there were jobs on the line, specifically the entire coaching staff (I still would not be surprised to see a couple changes) and General Manager Ted Thompson. If Aaron Rodgers had played badly, the pressure on him in 2009 would have been extraordinary.
He did not play badly at all. He threw for over 300 yards again, had three touchdown and no interceptions. Of his 10 incompletions, five hit receivers in the hands, including three to the Packers only Pro Bowl offensive player, Greg Jennings. To think Rodgers accounted for two touchdowns and only one turnover a game (including rushing and fumbles) without much Pro Bowl support following a legend in his first year starting is remarkable.
For the first time in NFL history, a team had two 100-yard rushers and two 100-yard receivers in one game. Ryan Grant, DeShawn Wynn, Donald Driver, and Greg Jennings accounted for 448 of the Packers 484 yards, including the 35 yards lost on sacks. (The Packers lost 24 yards on one Rodgers fumble that was eventually recovered by Green Bay.)
But this was no blow-out, as the Packers appeared to let up every time they had a lead of more than a touchdown. The Packers established a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on a 73-yard scamper by Wynn and a 3-yard TD pass to back-up tight end JerMichael Finley.
Detroit answered early in the second quarter with a nine-yard TD to Calvin Johnson, who finished with nine catches for 102 yards. In the third quarter, the Lions tied things up with another TD to Johnson, this one from 14 yards out. In the first three quarters, Johnson and rookie running back Kevin Smith accounted for 166 of the Lions 185 yards.
It was not until the Packers last possession of the third quarter that they would put on a scoring drive, and they did not put any points up in the second or third quarters; Mason Crosby's field goal 86 seconds in gave Green Bay a three-point lead. Exactly five minutes later, Rodgers found his fullback who stretched for a touchdown.
It took just 62 seconds for Detroit to answer, with Smith scampering in from nine yards out untouched. But on the first play of the ensuing possession, Rodgers hit Driver for a 71-yard touchdown to salt the game away. The Lions took three personal foul penalties on their next possession to put the nail in the coffin.
The main thing is, the Packers finished on a high note to a bad season. In the coming weeks, I will be analyzing this year's performances and then projecting the team's short-term future.