Now that was some NFC North football! The beat-up Green Bay Packers outlasted the overmatched Detroit Lions 27-20 on a cold and snowy night at Lambeau Field.
The game was far from pretty, but the result was the desired one for the Packers (9-4), who now hold a one-game lead over the Chicago Bears in the division race. The Bears dropped their second straight, losing to the Vikings in Minnesota, to fall to 8-5.
The Packers started slowly against the Lions, watching the Leos jump out to a 14-0 lead before getting anything going. They closed the deficit to 14-10 at halftime and then took over in the second half, outscoring the Lions 17-6.
Surprisingly, there weren’t a lot of offensive fireworks.
Both teams relied heavily on the run in the first half, but two of the touchdowns were the direct result of turnovers. Detroit’s second touchdown came after a strip sack, when Lawrence Jackson beat Marshall Newhouse and hit an unsuspecting Aaron Rodgers from behind.
Stephen Tulloch recovered and tight end Tony Scheffler caught at 3-yard touchdown pass shortly thereafter.
Matthew Stafford returned the favor later in the second quarter to let Green Bay back in it. While trying to throw a quick screen, the wet ball slipped out of Stafford’s hand as he cocked his arm to throw. Rookie defensive tackle Mike Daniels was in the right place at the right time, picked up the ball and rumbled 43 yards for the Packers first TD.
His comical attempt at a Lambeau Leap was almost as good as the score itself.
From there, it was NFC North football of yore — good defense and a solid ground game.
Hell, Aaron Rodgers only had 173 yards passing and didn’t throw a touchdown. Likewise, Stafford didn’t surpass 200 yards passing until garbage time.
The Packers got things done on the ground, where Alex Green got 69 yards on 13 carries — a 5.3 average. Rodgers chipped in 33 and a rushing touchdown and DuJuan Harris added 31 and another rushing score.
And just because we’re sure you wanted to know — Ryan Grant: one carry, 13 yards.
The Packers only receiving threat on the evening was Randall Cobb, who had 102 yards on seven catches.
Defensively, the Packers were successful by not letting Calvin Johnson take over the game. Although he had 10 catches for 118 yards, Johnson was played well by Tramon Williams. Most importantly, Johnson didn’t make any huge receptions, as you can see by his yards per catch (11.8).
Johnson was averaging 16.6 per catch coming into Sunday night.
In addition to Williams, Sam Shields was particularly impressive in his return from injury. Shields recorded a pick and nearly had two others.
Where the Packers defense didn’t excel was, not surprisingly, against the run. The Packers gave up 135 on the ground and the number would have been a lot higher if the Lions didn’t have to abandon that facet of the game in the fourth quarter.
Wait for it…
A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones.
Yeah, these guys show up in the box score — Jones had 12 tackles and Hawk had eight — but they get pushed around on the field.
Both Jones and Hawk, for some reason, always tend to tackle guys high. They always get pushed back three or four yards when they do so.
When’s the last time you saw either one of these guys knock someone backwards?
While Hawk and Jones were failing against the run, the Packers outside linebackers — Erik Walden, Dezman Moses and Frank Zombo — were failing as pass rushers. For the second week in a row, the Packers didn’t have a sack.
In fact, Stafford was rarely hurried. Perhaps most embarrassing is that the Lions quarterback took Zombo out on a block early in the game.
In the end, all that ineptitude didn’t cost the Packers though. It was largely the Lions ineptitude and Packers secondary that was the difference in the game.
The good news is, reinforcements are on the way. Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson are expected back for the Bears next weekend. Coincidentally, the Packers can also wrap up the division title with a win in Chicago.