Penalties doom Packers

Green Bay flagged 14 times, offense stuck in neutral in Motor City loss

DETROIT - Fittingly, the Green Bay Packers last gasp at a comeback against the Detroit Lions ended with a penalty.

The Packers committed 14 of them against the Lions on Sunday. The penalties coupled with three second-half turnovers by Brett Favre allowed the Lions to beat the Packers, 17-3, in the National Football League season opener on Sunday at Ford Field.

The Green Bay offense, which cranked out a franchise record of more than 6,300 total yards in 2004, was not even a shell of itself against the Lions. The Packers were out of sync, and basically out of it when quarterback Joey Harrington hit rookie Mike Williams with a three-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter for the final score.

The Packers, who finished with 216 yards of offense, had seven penalties called against them in each half, and a handful of others that were declined. The offense never got into any kind of rhythm until its final drive when Favre led the Packers to the Lions' 12 on an 11-yard pass to Antonio Chatman. But after Favre was sacked twice, driving Green Bay back to the 32, the Packers were penalized for an illegal formation on Favre's desperation heave into the end zone on fourth down. The penalty was declined, giving the Lions their second win in the last 10 games against the Packers.

"We've had this conversation throughout the preseason," said Brett Favre, "and now, maybe moreso than throughout my career, it's important that we take care of the ball offensively. People have said that our defense is a question mark, well, our defense played well. The thing that you can't do is keep putting them back on the field, give them a short field and things like that."

What may hurt the offense even worse than its inability to move the ball, is that it may have lost star receiver Javon Walker for the rest of the season. Walker sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury to his right knee after catching a long pass from Favre in the third quarter. Coach Mike Sherman said his receiver will undergo an MRI on Monday for further evaluation.

Favre's fumble in his attempt to pass in the third quarter and interception early in the fourth quarter led to 10 points for the Lions. Harrington, who finished 15 of 28 for 167 yards, found Charles Rogers for a 31-yard gain to Green Bay's 22. Running back Kevin Jones pounded it to the 3, before Harrington tossed his second touchdown pass of the game to Williams with 4 minutes, 13 seconds left.

"We have been in too many of those games over the last couple of years where we have a lead, we have a chance to put them away and don't, especially because of No. 4 (Brett Favre)," said Harrington. "There is one fresh in my mind from last eyar, and we weren't going to let that happen again."

The Lions led the Packers 13-0 at chilly Lambeau Field in a game last December, but the Packers rallied for a 16-13 victory.

Jones had a 156 yards and a touchdown in that game, but the Packers held him to 87 yards on 25 carries an no touchdowns on Sunday.

"A couple of times they had a lot of people stacking the line of scrimmage, but when they do that it just leaves it open to the pass, but they did a good job on defense," said Jones.

Favre, who was sharp during training camp, suffered his worse loss as a Packer. The veteran QB was unable to get the offense into any kind of rhythm against the Lions because of the penalties and turnovers. Favre lost control of the football attempting to pass early in the third quarter that led to a touchdown.

"Penalties hurt an offense more than anything," Sherman said. "Instead of a run on second and 6, we're faced with a pass on second and 15. It changes the flow and rhythm of a game. With seven penalties on offense, it's way too many to be efficient."

The Packers only converted 5 of 16 third downs (31 percent). The Packers didn't get a first down in the second half until early in the third quarter.

"A lot of those third downs were manageable third downs," Sherman said. "We had a lot of second and longs because of penalties. Our failure in the red zone, 0-2 in the red zone and something we've worked a lot at ... our failure on third down. Those are two of the toppers."

Besides the penalties, the Packers also botched a field-goal attempt in the first quarter on a bobbled snap and dropped some passes. Green Bay's defense gave up a 68-yard scoring drive in the first quarter, but played well thereafter.

The Lions used the combination of Jones and their potent corp of receivers in an eight-play, 68-yard drive, capped by Harrington's 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marcus Pollard. Harrington threw to three different receivers in the drive, including a 25-yard play to wide receiver Kevin Johnson, who got open in the left flat and motored to Green Bay's 36 yard line. On the next play, Harrington found Pollard, who got away from linebacker Paris Lenon, for an 18-yard pickup.

Lenon started in place of the injured Na'il Diggs, who is expected to return from a knee injury next week in Green Bay's home opener Sept. 18 against Cleveland.

Cullen Jenkins, who started at defensive tackle for the departed Cletidus Hunt, knocked down a pass from Harrington on third and seven, which would have forced Detroit to settle for a field goal attempt. But cornerback Jason Horton was penalized for illegal use of hands, and the Lions proceeded to capitalize with a touchdown.

The Packers were penalized seven times for 55 yards in the first half, including three straight during a Lions drive in the second quarter. Green Bay drew an average of nine penalties a game during the preseason and was hoping to avoid them against the Lions, but that wasn't the case early on.

"We'll be talking about (the penalties)," said Sherman. "I said I'd get it cleared up and I haven't. It isn't like it just popped up here. It's been happening all preseason. It isn't like we've had our head in the sand in regard to it. I talk to them about it every day, I talked to them about it last night, I talked to them about it before the game."

The Packers' defense dodged a bullet in a second-quarter drive when the Lions elected to go for it on fourth-and-three from Green Bay's 29. The Packers took over on downs by stopping the Lions wide receiver Roy Williams short of a first down at the 31. Lions kicker Jason Hanson strained the hamstring on his kicking leg early in the game, which may have been a reason why the Lions attempted to convert a first down, rather than attempt a 50-yard field goal.

The Packers, on their second drive of the game, blew a chance to score when B.J. Sander, holding for kicker Ryan Longwell, bobbled the snap and poorly positioned the ball. Longwell decided not to kick the ball and Sander was leveled by the Lions defense.

Green Bay's defense, under new coordinator Jim Bates, forced the Lions to punt on their final two series of the first half. Defensive end Aaron Kampman sacked Harrington on Detroit's 46 to end a drive with less than a minute left in the half. The Packers forced the Lions into a three-and-out on the previous drive.

The Lions finished with 254 yards of offense, but it could have been worse considering the Packers turned the ball over three times.

Green Bay's offense, which sputtered in the preseason, didn't give the defense a lot of help in the first half. Despite possessing the ball for more than 9 minutes in the first half, the Packers could only muster a 50-yard field goal by Longwell.

The three points scored by the Packers were the fewest in a game since they lost 31-3 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early in the 1992 season, Mike Holmgren's first year as head coach.

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