With no time on the clock, the Lions lost to the Packers on a Hail Mary on Thursday night. This will happen, especially when Aaron Rodgers has the ball with just about any amount of time left on the clock. How it happened, though, should infuriate Lions fans.
1. It shouldn't have happened at all.
We first have to admit that this was a bad call.
While the thumb brushes the facemask, the defender never actually grasps and controls the facemask. While it looks like he yanks Rodgers down by the headgear, it's actually the shoulder pad. So the last penalty, and thus the last play, never should've happened.
But it did ...
2. Why are these people on the field?
The two players circled in red are Haloti Ngata and Ziggy Ansah. The Lions left their nose tackle in after the failed lateral play a few seconds earlier. Their large, tired nose tackle, who probably wasn't going to be chasing anyone down in a scramble situation.
Ansah, on the other hand, was in press -- He bumps the outside receiver then drifts to the sticks on the sideline and covers short in case of a lateral. It appears to be the same coverage they had on the play before, but with Ansah on the opposite side of the field. Ansah is not built for coverage.
3. What in the world are you covering?
The Packers had one last shot, 61 yards from the end zone. That's a long way! A lot of teams and quarterbacks would throw short and hope for chaos via laterals. A lot of teams do this to make up for a quarterback who can't throw it high and far enough to get to the end zone.
Aaron Rodgers, a man who regularly makes throws that seem physically impossible, is not one of those quarterbacks. And yet ...
This is bad, Detroit. What you have here is two guys playing the sidelines just past the sticks. With no time left on the clock, Detroit rushed three and dropped eight, using two of those eight to stay short and take away the outer thirds.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, though, had his reasons, saying "In that situation, we have a couple different things that we do. That was one where you were kind of looking for that pass and back-and-forth kind of thing because of the range."
To be fair: The Packers ran a lateral on the play before, ending with the facemask call and a free 15 yards. Those 15 yards are the difference between having a shot at the end zone and not. If you were to concede that Green Bay might run a lateral play again, this could make sense. But by the time this screenshot was taken, every eligible receiver was 20 yards past the short defenders.
4. But the defense called still wasn't fatal.
It was bad, and it put Detroit at a disadvantage by not only giving Rodgers the time to set the Hail Mary up with only three rushers to deal with, but also by taking two players out of meaningful coverage. But Detroit still had 6-on-5 in the end zone to deal with the deep ball. And yet!
With six players to cover five receivers in the end zone, the Lions … well, they didn't really bother doing much of anything.
Only one Lion is playing his man (on the S in LIONS). The three circled are putting a body on … nobody. The Packers have 3-on-2 where the ball is going, turning what should be a disadvantage into an advantage.
Hail Marys are actually scripted chaos. This is a play beyond "everyone run to the end zone." The Packers in this play have roles, and Richard Rodgers is playing the role of "guy who catches a batted ball." His job is to stay short and drift toward the end zone, where an inevitable pileup of receivers and defensive backs will happen.
Except … the Lions don't cover Rodgers. With the ball in the air, you can see Rodgers turn around, realize nobody is going to put a body on him, and calmly snag the game-winning pass. Because the Lions didn't bother to box out, and didn't bother to put a man between the group of receivers and Rodgers, he didn't even have to do the job he was assigned. Rodgers cut the middleman out and made the play himself.
The Lions failed in just about every way on the last play of the game. There was the schematic failure that was rushing three and leaving two players covering nothing. There was the execution failure of not even really bothering to deal with most of the five receivers near the end zone.
The Lions turned a play that should have incredibly long odds of success into the longest game-ending, game-winning Hail Mary in NFL history by handing it to the Packers on a silver platter.