Lions could have done more on Packers' Hail Mary

Posted at 6:08 PM, Dec 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 18:08:19-05
DETROIT (AP) -- There's no such thing as an easy Hail Mary.
This one just felt a little less fluky.
Aaron Rodgers threw the ball about 70 yards to the end zone, and Richard Rodgers made an impressive catch with a bunch of players right behind him -- but the Detroit Lions can look back at any number of things they could have done differently to prevent the touchdown with no time remaining that gave Green Bay a 27-23 victory Thursday night.
"What you try to do is not let them catch it, plain and simple," Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said.
What has to be galling for Lions fans is that this wasn't like so many other Hail Marys. There was no crazy bounce, no pile of players fighting over the ball while falling to the ground. One Rodgers made the throw, another Rodgers made the catch and the Green Bay players spilled off the sideline right away, realizing they'd won.
Needless to say, a lot went wrong for the Lions.
With the ball at the Green Bay 39, Detroit rushed only three players, leaving the other eight to cover the expansive territory between the line of scrimmage and the end zone. This strategy isn't all that unusual, but on such a long Hail Mary, Aaron Rodgers needed to buy a little extra time so his receivers could get to the end zone. The limited pass rush allowed that.
"In that situation, a lot of times we practice it from like the 50 or maybe the 45. I knew we were around the 40," Aaron Rodgers said. "I felt good about throwing it to the end zone from the 40, so I was just kind of looking at the rush and moving around."
Perhaps most crucially, the Lions were concerned that Green Bay might not throw a Hail Mary at all. On the previous play, the Packers had tried a short pass followed by laterals. So Detroit didn't bother putting Calvin Johnson in to defend a heave to the end zone. The Lions were concerned instead about the possibility of needing an open-field tackle.
When Rodgers set himself and threw toward the end zone, two Detroit players were near opposite sidelines around their own 40-yard line. With the ball sailing overhead, they were not in a position to defend anything.
There were still six Detroit players left to defend five eligible receivers. When Aaron Rodgers released the ball, Richard Rodgers was at about the 10-yard line. Lions linebacker Josh Bynes was nearby, but Green Bay's Davante Adams was behind him. Bynes followed Adams to the end zone, leaving Richard Rodgers alone.
"We had plenty of guys back there," Caldwell said. "We just didn't make the play. They did."
If the throw had been lower and reached the end zone faster, Richard Rodgers might not have had time to settle under it. But Aaron Rodgers tossed the ball high into the air, and it was clear someone on the Packers (8-4) would have a chance to come down with it in the end zone.
Richard Rodgers was able to drift into the end zone without much resistance, and he had nobody really obstructing his view of the ball. Bynes and Adams jostled for position. So did receiver James Jones and cornerback Nevin Lawson. Safety Glover Quin came up from behind to try to make a play on the ball, and linebacker Tahir Whitehead jumped in from the side.
Whitehead was able to get his hands on Richard Rodgers, but once the Green Bay tight end caught the ball, he wouldn't allow anyone to jar it loose.
"Until that clock ticks zero, there's no such thing as certain victory," Caldwell said.
Actually, the clock had hit zero on the previous play, but the game still wasn't over because Detroit's Devin Taylor was called for a facemask -- a penalty the Lions disputed after the game.
Now Detroit's three-game winning streak is over, and the best the Lions (4-8) can hope for is a .500 record.
"It's tough to swallow," Detroit receiver Golden Tate said. "We played a good game -- just one play."