The anatomy of a Hail Mary defensive failure by the Lions

DETROIT -- Aaron Rodgers got one more chance to beat the Detroit Lions on Thursday night.

And with a heave to the end zone, he did, completing an improbable Hail Mary on an untimed extra play following a face-mask penalty, on a ball he threw 60-plus yards in the air.

“I’m not sure any other quarterback makes that play,” Lions defensive end Darryl Tapp said. “Makes that throw. He did that. [Rodgers] did that. [No.] 12 was able to elude the rush and buy enough time and make an excellent throw down there.”

He made the play, but he was aided by a lot of miscues by the Lions. It started with a misjudgment by the Detroit coaches on how to defend the play. Head coach Jim Caldwell said his team prepared for Green Bay to try a play with laterals and pitches instead of a Hail Mary. This came despite the Packers trying that -- and failing -- the play before.

That's why the Lions left wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has been on the field before in Hail Mary defense situations, on the sideline. It could also explain why Detroit chose to rush three players instead of a typical four-man rush to get more pressure on Rodgers.

Detroit had Devin Taylor, Jason Jones and Haloti Ngata trying to rush Rodgers, with Ezekiel Ansah lined up outside on the left to drop into coverage for a lateral instead of pressuring Green Bay’s makeshift offensive line that was ravaged by injuries.

Using Jones and Ansah made sense, but in a lateral situation, Ngata is one of the slowest Lions players so he would be unable to chase anyone down.

“I know there’s a lot of things that they’ll say, ‘Hey, why didn’t you do this or that,’ and there’s always hindsight and that kind of stuff,” Caldwell said. “There’s probably a number of things that we could look at [and have] someone come up with a little different idea.”

The Lions actually got decent pressure with the three-man rush. Jones and Taylor beat the Packers' offensive linemen and flushed Rodgers out of the pocket. Jones almost sacked Rodgers, actually touching him, before being knocked out of the play at the last second by Don Barclay. Taylor had good pursuit, but Ngata was neutralized at the start of the play. So was Ansah once it became obvious Green Bay was attempting a Hail Mary because he was too far off the ball in coverage.

“What I saw was, bam, hit a little pass rush move or whatnot,” Taylor said. “[Rodgers] try to go left and he couldn’t go left because I was there applying pressure. Then I saw him go back right and all I saw was the ball launch up. I didn’t even look to see what had happened.

“I just heard it was a bunch of, I guess, cheering and whatnot.”

Once Rodgers threw the ball from the Packers’ 35-yard line, it was up to the Lions' linebackers and defensive backs in the end zone to make a play.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford tried not to watch, only peeking at the Jumbotron. Other Lions couldn’t turn away as the ball hung in the air.

“It was kind of like a movie watching the ball in the air,” tight end Eric Ebron said. “I didn’t know it was going to go that far. That’s Aaron Rodgers, man.”

The ball was airborne for 5.42 seconds as Lions defenders and Packers receivers converged on a spot in the end zone. It became a box-out scenario and the Lions defended it poorly. Linebackers Josh Bynes and Tahir Whitehead along with defensive backs Glover Quin, Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson were all in the scrum.

The Lions had no one on Richard Rodgers, who started out on the Lions’ 1-yard line before backing into the end zone as he read the pass. The Lions did, though, have three defenders sitting behind all of the Packers’ receivers in poor boxing-out position.

Bynes, who was charged with boxing out the actual target on the play -- receiver Davante Adams -- actually whiffed on the box-out so if Rodgers was not there, Adams would have had a good shot at catching it.

“We weren’t in the position to defend it,” Slay said. “If we was, we would have made the play. Obviously, we weren’t in position to defend it.”

The Lions had time to get set up properly, as the play lasted 13.5 seconds from snap to catch. But the Lions failed on every level -- from coaching decisions by Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to the execution by the players on the field.

And it resulted in a stunning Lions loss.

“That’s crazy, but it just shows that the game is not over until there’s zero seconds on the clock and sometimes then, it’s not over,” receiver Golden Tate said. “So it’s tough, tough to swallow. But we played a good game, man. Played a good game.

“Just one play.”