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Lions might be better, but Thanksgiving dud in loss to Packers was all too familiar

If you hadn’t paid any attention to the NFL before Thanksgiving, the Detroit Lions’ loss on Thursday wouldn’t have felt out of place.

A Green Bay Packers quarterback firing downfield on the first play for a 53-yard gain? Seen that. The Lions scoring right away but missing the extra point? A new wrinkle, but it fits. A fumble by the quarterback returned for a touchdown, and then another fumble right after? A fake punt that fooled nobody and got stuffed at their own 23?

Yep, that’s Lions football on Thanksgiving.

But this was supposed to be a much better Thanksgiving in Detroit. The Lions are actually good. They were 8-2 coming into Thursday, and only one NFL team had a better record. It didn’t look that way on Thursday.

The Packers dominated the Lions. Jordan Love threw for three touchdowns, an undermanned defense pressured Jared Goff all day and Green Bay easily beat Detroit 29-22. The final score looked a lot better thanks to a Detroit touchdown in the final minute.

It won’t be a happy Thanksgiving in Detroit. Though, Lions fans are used to that.

Lions get off to a terrible start

The Lions’ annual Thanksgiving game was supposed to be a celebration of the best Lions team since, well, either ever or 1957 if you want to regale us with stories about Bobby Layne’s crew. It couldn’t have started any worse.

On the first play of the game, Love hit Christian Watson downfield for a 53-yard gain. That seemed to give the Packers confidence right away. Green Bay scored on a tight-window throw from Love to Jayden Reed to finish that drive. The Lions responded immediately on a Sam LaPorta touchdown and while the extra point was no good, it seemed Detroit would be fine.

Green Bay never let up. Tight end Tucker Kraft scored his first career touchdown, then the defense picked up a fumble from Goff and returned it for a touchdown. Suddenly it was 20-6.

The Lions were playing their biggest Thanksgiving game in many years. Most seasons, NFL fans grumble about a bad Lions team always hosting the first Thanksgiving game and how they shouldn’t automatically be a permanent host. This season was supposed to be different. In the first half, it looked like the moment was too big for them.

The Lions trailed 23-6 at halftime. In most other years, that would just be the annual reminder to turn the game off and start cooking the mashed potatoes. This year was supposed to be different.

Lions’ fake punt comes up well short

The start of the second half looked better for Detroit. The Lions hit a couple of big plays to start the half, shook off a questionable holding penalty that called back a touchdown and scored on a David Montgomery run. Montgomery ran in the two-point conversion too and Detroit was back in the game.

Then came the fake punt. Lions coach Dan Campbell has been hyper-aggressive on fourth down this season, and dialed up a fake punt deep in his own territory. The Packers weren’t tricked, they tackled the ballcarrier well short of the first down and took over at the 23-yard line. Watson scored a few plays later and the Packers had a 15-point lead again. The Lions have benefitted from Campbell’s approach all season but it didn’t work in that situation.

The game wasn’t over at that point but the Lions couldn’t convert key fourth downs in the fourth quarter, which they needed after digging a huge hole. Detroit couldn’t protect Goff and that was a key factor in the game. So was the defense’s inability to slow down Love, who had a fantastic game as he continues his surge in the second half of this season.

The Lions will be fine. They’re in great shape to win their first division title since 1993. It has been a great season for a fanbase that mostly hasn’t experienced what it’s like to have their team be one of the best in the NFL. But this Thanksgiving didn’t look a lot different than most Thanksgivings in Lions history.

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