Before I move on to the Rams – Lions match-up, the endgame in the Lions at Packers matchup has been nagging at me. The final drive, and the punt vs field goal debate with 6:39 left in the game. While I was helping the Little Pink Lions pick up their room, I found one of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I’m sure most of you have seen them — you read a page or two, choose your action, and turn to the page indicated. “If you open the door, turn to page 46. If you go to the next door, turn to page 32″ Unfortunately, most of the time page 46 involved being incinerated by a rabid chipmunk with a flamethrower and and page 32 involved falling into a pit. In those books, one wrong choice led down a path to a point where all you had was bad endings, two choices in how you end up — both of them bad. There was typically one right ending, and it was an early choice that decided whether you were on a winning or losing track. I’m not sure where that point in the game was, if there was one — but for today, lets look at that last doomed choice: Punt vs Kick
#1 – Punt, turn to page 23.
The arguments for this seem to get lost since the defense got roasted and shoved around on the Green Bay final drive. The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers had been held in check the entire second half. While most of that was them not seeing the field thanks to long Detroit drives on offense, the Packers had not been able to find a consistent rhythm for some time at that point in the game. The run game, in particular, was atrocious having gained only 43 yards when the Green Bay offense took over on their own 13 yard line with 6:32 remaining. Considering how well the Lions had defended the run at that point in the game, it was a good gamble that Detroit would be able to get a stop and make a drive for the game winning field goal. It was also a gamble they lost as Green Bay raced down to the Detroit 24 yard line in just 4:40 while bleeding the clock racking up 47 yards rushing — as much in 5 minutes as the previous 55. They ended on the Detroit 13 in almost sure scoring position when time finally ran out.
Page 23: You keep opening door after door, but run out time before you can find the golden football. You Lose. Go Back and start again.
#2 – Field Goal, turn to page 16
This option stems from the fact that the Lions lost the game with no further scoring, down by one point. I keep reading over and over that the Lions would have won if Hanson had nailed the long FG — then Green Bay couldn’t have run out the clock. One major fallacy with saying the field goal would have won the game instead of letting the defense lose it is that there was still 6:39 seconds left in the game at that point! The field goal would have given Detroit a 2 point lead. Green Bay would have been driving to bleed the clock and get into field goal range. Guess what? Here is the final drive play-by-play from NFL.com:
Green Bay Packers at 06:32
1-10-GB 13 (6:32) 30-J.Kuhn up the middle to GB 20 for 7 yards (26-L.Delmas).
2-3-GB 20 (5:53) 30-J.Kuhn left guard to GB 25 for 5 yards (49-Z.Follett).
1-10-GB 25 (5:09) 12-A.Rodgers pass short right to 80-D.Driver ran ob at GB 37 for 12 yards (39-C.Brown).
1-10-GB 37 (4:34) 32-B.Jackson left tackle to GB 34 for -3 yards (75-T.McBride, 92-C.Avril).
2-13-GB 34 (3:51) (Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers right end to 50 for 16 yards (27-A.Smith).
1-10- (3:02) 30-J.Kuhn left guard to DET 44 for 6 yards (39-C.Brown).
2-4-DET 44 (2:19) 30-J.Kuhn left guard to DET 39 for 5 yards (49-Z.Follett, 55-L.Johnson).
1-10-DET 39 (2:00) 12-A.Rodgers pass short left to 86-D.Lee to DET 24 for 15 yards (49-Z.Follett).
Timeout #2 by DET at 01:52.
1-10-DET 24 (1:52) 30-J.Kuhn right end to DET 22 for 2 yards (26-L.Delmas, 49-Z.Follett).
2-8-DET 22 (1:07) 30-J.Kuhn right end to DET 21 for 1 yard (90-N.Suh).
Timeout #3 by DET at 00:55.
3-7-DET 21 (:55) 30-J.Kuhn up the middle to DET 13 for 8 yards (26-L.Delmas; 58-A.Palmer).
1-10-DET 13 (:12) 12-A.Rodgers kneels to DET 14 for -1 yards.
Look at the clock and field position — it only took Green Bay 4:40 to drive down to the Detroit 24 yard line – well within field goal range. Is it a sure thing? No. Is it probable considering how good a kickerMason Crosby is in that range? Yes. Highly. Keep in mind that whether they were trying to stop them from bleeding out the clock, or bleeding out the clock and getting into field goal range, the goal is the same. It’s not like the difference between holding them out of the endzone versus holding them out of field goal range. Whether the Lions punted or kicked the field goal, they needed to stop the Packers from advancing down the field.
They did not.
In the game as it occurred, Green Bay held the lead and was trying to burn time off the clock — and did a very good job of it. Even in the scenario where the Lions are up by two and Green Bay needs to be sure they have time there was 6:32 left — I have a hard time believing the Lions while on defense could have burned off enough extra time to keep the Pack out of field goal range given how much time the Pack bled out during their 4:40 drive to field goal range. Detroit would have needed to stop them, or somehow hold them further back the field using more time than they did. Kicking the field goal means you likely lose the same way Green Bay did against Chicago the week before — Field Goal sails through the uprights snatching victory away as time expires.
Page 16: You force open the door and there it is — the golden football! Clutching it in your arms, you run back through the door — and get tripped! The Golden Football flies out of your hands, and bounces down the stairs. As you go to chase after it, time expires… you lose. Go Back and start again.
As I re-watched the game again, it occurred to me that last call was just like the choose your own adventure book. At that point in the game/book, either choice leads to a loss. There were other turning points earlier in the game, but as far as the final drive is concerned, you can make the punt into a successful field goal, and you are just choosing your own ending: Time Expires down by one point, or Green Bay kicks a chip-shot field goal with :06 remaining. Either way, you lose. Go back and start over against the Rams.
Each game is like a choose your own adventure book — every play leads to a choice — and the outcome of that leads to another. Sometimes, we need to look beyond the last choice — or even one pivotal choice — and look instead to what led us there in the first place. I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque…