On Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers stated clearly to the world that there may come a day when the green and gold falls, when the oval G is not a symbol of excellence, when the NFC North becomes ruled by the purple retards from Canada, the black and orange sodomites from Shootsville, or the blue and silver D-bags from Debtor’s Prison, but not on THIS day. On this day the NFC North belongs, still, to Green Bay.
7:45, 1st Quarter – Yes, it is nearly incomprehensible, but the Packers somehow managed to repeat the debacle of last week by driving to the Lions’ 1-yard line and not scoring.
For once, the Packers won the coin toss and deferred. The Lions started with just two receivers on the field and so the Packers countered with their base defense. After a run by Reggie Bush and a dump to the fullback gained 9 yards, the Lions faced 3rd and 1. Matthew Stafford rolled to his left, looking for Calvin Johnson on an arrow route. However, Sam Shields played underneath it and had it covered. Stafford hung onto the ball too long and Clay Matthews got to end the first series of the game with his 11th sack of the season.
The Packers started with the ball at their own 37. Eddie Lacy got the ball on a stretch right play. T.J. Lang tied up Ndamukong Suh, Bryan Bulaga blocked DeAndre Levy, and when the Lions’ other middle linebacker, Tahir Whitehead, shot the gap between Josh Sitton and David Bakhtiari, Lacy shot between Lang and Corey Linsley and found the middle of the field wide open. It would have been about a 10-yard gain, except Lacy carried what Joe Buck called “the city of Detroit” for an additional 12 yards or so, making it a 22-yard gain.
Right after Lacy gained another first down by breaking tackles and even pulling out an early spin move, he took himself out of the game. James Starks got a carry over the right side, burst into the secondary, evaded the tackling attempt of safety James Ihedigbo and went for 21 yards, down to the Lions’ 7.
The Lions started the game in their nickel, leaving just six guys to defend the run. They found out quickly on this drive that unlike in Detroit, that strategy would not work.
After two more runs got down to the 2-yard line, Aaron Rodgers had Randall Cobb open on the dig route from the slot, but for once, Rodgers was not looking for Cobb and tried Jordy Nelson at the back of the end zone. Nelson dropped the ball, but he was held on the play by Ihedigbo. The defensive holding call gave the Packers three new downs from the 1-yard line.
On first down, John Kuhn was the only running back on the field. He took a lead over the left tackle and got a half yard. On second down, James Starks was in and Rodgers went play fake and then roll right. Nothing was there and Rodgers threw it away. On third down, the Packers went empty set. Rodgers looked for Cobb on the out this time, but was perhaps surprised to find the Lions in a zone and the out covered. Jarrett Boykin was open on the slant underneath Cobb, but Rodgers had already given up on that side of the field and escaped to his right only to throw it away once more.
The Packers should have taken the points and a lead at this point. However, Mike McCarthy isn’t the only NFL coach stricken with go-for-it-on-fourth disease. Just 10 years ago, you couldn’t find a coach outside Bill Belichick or Mike Martz that would pass up sure points to try for it on fourth down. Now, everyone does it.
The Packers lined up with Lacy behind Kuhn and ran the play they should have ran three plays ago. Lacy would have probably scored if he took it to the outside once Levy hit Kuhn in the hole, but understandably, Lacy thought he could push his way into the end zone. Wrong. Lions’ ball.
5:50, 1st Quarter – Oh, look what I found. The goal line idiocy paid off as Micah Hyde took the Lions’ ensuing punt to the house to put the Packers ahead at 7-0.
The Lions got one first down and moved away from their own goal line when Clay Matthews got too far upfield and left a huge gap for Joique Bell to run through. Bell got 9 yards, out to the Lions’ 13. However, two plays later, Matthews surprised the two defenders that lined up in front of him when he looped around them to the inside. He met Bell in the backfield and dumped him for a 4-yard loss.
Surprisingly, a big part of the Lions’ strategy for this game involved lining up with only one receiver, two tight ends and a fullback. Perhaps the Lions agreed with me that Joique Bell was the biggest weapon they had against the Packers. Perhaps they were just afraid of the Packers offense and wanted to keep them off the field. Regardless, the Packers wisely answered by replacing Sam Shields with Sean Richardson, giving them another big body to defend the run.
This strategy by the Lions helped the Packers contain the receiving duo of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, since both of them weren’t on the field together for large swaths of the game. The Lions did find some success running at the edges of the Packers defense, largely by running right at Matthews when he lined up on the outside in the base. However, they had no success running the ball up the middle of the field and thus found no consistency in their running game.
Matthews’ play in the Lions’ backfield caused a 3rd and 13, on which Stafford threw harmlessly out of bounds. This forced the Lions to punt from their own 10. The punt itself was merely mediocre. Micah Hyde fielded the punt at the Green Bay 45. He was right in the middle of the field and had a crucial 5 yards of room between himself and the coverage. Gunner Cassius Vaughn fell down, giving the Lions one less guy to make a tackle. Hyde ran straight up the middle, made one Lion miss, and went the distance untouched.
9:20, 2nd Quarter – An impressive drive by the Packers ended with an Eddie Lacy fumble at the Lions’ 17.
The Lions followed Hyde’s touchdown with a drive that reached the Packers’ 36 before ending in a punt. Stafford managed to complete a couple passes right in the middle of the field — a 14-yard pass to Tate followed by a 22-yard pass to tight end Eric Ebron. The Lions punted after Mike Daniels forced Stafford to throw the ball away again on 3rd and 11.
The Lions executed the punt well and the Packers were forced to start at the 6. On 3rd and 10 from there, Rodgers dumped to Nelson on a short cross. Fortunately, Nelson broke through the tackle attempt of Ihedigbo and gained 12 yards. On the next play, Rodgers caught the Lions with 12 guys on the field and fired over the middle to Richard Rodgers for 18 yards. After two Lacy runs set up 3rd and 1, the Packers ran what is becoming their own version of the read option.
From the shotgun formation, with Lacy next to Rodgers, Rodgers sticks the ball out for Lacy on the draw. If the linebackers drive towards the line of scrimmage, which they usually do, then Rodgers pulls the ball out and throws it quickly to the slot receiver. Considering how active the linebackers have to be if they plan on holding Eddie Lacy to less than a yard, this is a particularly difficult play for the defense to stop. The Rodgers to Rodgers connection here gets 7 yards, moving the ball past midfield.
The following play, Rodgers found Nelson on the skinny post, beating Darius Slay clean for a 22-yard gain. Eddie Lacy rumbled for 8 yards on the next play, down to the Lions’ 16, but he was stripped by Ihedigbo on the play. George Johnson recovered for the Lions. Eddie Lacy has fumbled twice all season — both against the Lions. Go figure.
2:24, 2nd Quarter – It was one of the shortest celebrations in Packers history, as Rodgers ended a six-play, 69-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, before crumpling to the ground.
After the Lions recovered Lacy’s fumble, they used outside runs by Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to advance the ball all the way to the Packers’ 31. However, once there, they decided to throw the ball four straight times and turn it over on downs. Thanks.
The Packers took over and used three straight runs by Lacy to move the ball to midfield. On 3rd and 8, after a false start call on Corey Linsley, Rodgers jogged for 13 yards and a first down at the Lions’ 43. On the next play, working from the slot, Cobb badly beat Cassius Vaughn and took off up the middle of the field for 34 yards.
The Lions are also quickly discovering that unlike in Detroit, Vaughn cannot cover Cobb one-on-one.
The Packers scored one play later when Rodgers escaped to his right, pulled up lame and tossed it to Cobb in the end zone almost like an afterthought. With Rodgers down, the Packers are happy to be up 14-0.
Halftime – In what was momentarily the turning point of the game, the Lions took advantage of a passive Packers defense, a subdued and concerned crowd and a moronic penalty to make the halftime score 14-7.
It first appeared that the Lions would not be going anywhere, as they faced 3rd and 10 right off the bat. Stafford dumped over the middle to Bush and both Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett had a good shot to tackle Bush short if they played aggressively. They sat back instead and Bush gained exactly 10. Stafford followed that with two passes over the middle — 16 yards to Ebron and then 19 yards to Tate.
The Lions appeared stymied at the Packers’ 35 when Hayward made a nice tackle on Theo Riddick to force 3rd and 13, and then Stafford misfired to Bush on third. However, Brad “one man disaster” Jones slapped Stafford in the face upon passing, giving the Lions 15 yards and a first down. On the next play, Stafford threw the one pass he is very good at, firing the seam to Johnson right in front of Morgan Burnett. Touchdown.
7:34, 3rd Quarter – Stafford finished an 11-play, 51-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson and suddenly, the game was tied at 14-14.
The Packers started the second half with the ball, but besides the fact that they’ve been terrible after half all season, Matt Flynn was in at quarterback. The Packers went three and out. After a dump to Eddie Lacy gave Flynn a manageable 3rd and 4, Flynn held the ball until he was sacked. The replay shows everyone was open, especially Lacy right in front of Flynn.
The Lions got to start at midfield thanks to a lousy punt by Tim Masthay, who has really faded down the stretch, and a 14-yard return by Jeremy “The Muff” Ross. Stafford converted 3rd and 10 by throwing a perfectly timed out to Tate for 12 yards. They then faced 3rd and 6. Stafford dumped to Bush, of course, but Hayward forced him out of bounds about a yard short of the first, before taking a header into a heater on the sideline. The refs blew the spot and marked the ball nearly a full yard further upfield than Bush got, making it 4th and inches instead of 4th and 1. Stafford merely snuck for that and just barely got it.
A pass to Ross against the zone gained 13 yards, down to the Packers’ 4. Stafford threw to the back corner of the end zone for Johnson. Tramon Williams was aggressively playing the back-shoulder pass, and the well-thrown ball just got over him and back to Johnson.
3:33, 3rd Quarter – Aaron Rodgers is back and the Packers responded with their biggest drive of the season, going 60 yards in seven plays to go back ahead 21-14.
After runs by Lacy and Starks got a first down, Rodgers found Cobb again crossing the middle for 29 yards, down to the Lions’ 19. Three plays later, with the Packers lining up Nelson and Cobb on the same side, the Lions put safety Glover Quin over the top to help on either. It didn’t matter. Cobb beat everyone to the inside and dove into the end zone. Let’s just call him “Big Money” Cobb from now on.
8:45, 4th Quarter – The Packers capitalized on a Lions’ fumble by going 42 yards in nine plays to seize a 28-14 lead.
After Cobb’s score switched momentum back to the Packers, the Lions went three and out. Hey now, if the Packers can actually start to play good defense after a touchdown, we might have something here.
On 3rd and 10, Stafford looked for Reggie Bush on a circle route, of course, and Hayward jumped it and only pass interference by Bush stopped Hayward from having a pick at midfield.
The Packers offense started with the ball at their 25. On the first play, Rodgers showed the benefit of his injury by stepping up in the pocket instead of trying to escape it and dumping to Lacy, who rumbled for 15 yards. On 3rd and 3, Rodgers dumped to Lacy, who made a diving catch and rolled for a first down. Lacy lost the ball when hit by Whitehead, but Lacy was down the moment he was touched.
The Packers advanced as far as the Lions’ 36, but the inevitable holding call against David Bakhtiari, who made Ziggy Ansah disappear in this game by the way, pushed the Packers back. They only recovered as far as the Lions’ 34, where McCarthy decided to trot out Mason Crosby for a 52-yard field goal attempt. No fault of Crsoby’s, Andrew Quarless and J.C. Tretter allowed a Lions’ edge rusher to run right between them and block the kick from the backfield.
That is seven blocked kicks for the Packers’ special teams, if you are scoring at home.
Similar to how the goal-line debacle to start the game led to a good thing for the Packers, the blocked kick turned into gold when Joique Bell forgot to take the hand off on the next play. Morgan Burnett jumped on the loose ball and the Packers got the ball back at the Lions’ 42. It would take them nine plays from there to score.
They converted a 3rd and 4 from the Lions’ 36 with a 6-yard pass to Richard Rodgers, who made the catch even though he was interfered with during the entire route. Two plays later, Rodgers went with the read option again and threw a quick pass to Nelson from the slot. Nelson broke a tackle and went for 15 yards, down the Lions’ 10.
A facemask penalty on Levy and then a run by Lacy moved the ball inside the 1-yard line. Aaron Rodgers went quickly and noticed the Lions had no one lined up over the center. The Packers then executed the play that won them the Ice Bowl. Linsley and Lang used a wedge block on C.J. Mosely. Sitton fired straight ahead and blocked the incoming linebacker. If it is Bart Starr, it is an easy score. However, not only is Rodgers one of the worst on the QB sneak of all time, but he was on a bad leg. Rodgers fell his way just into the end zone.
2:40, 4th Quarter – Datone Jones forced Stafford to throw it away from the end zone. That’s a safety and now the Packers lead 30-14.
Needing a response, the Lions went from their 25 to the Packers’ 37 in two plays. However, they turned it over on downs from there. On both the third and fourth down plays, Julius Peppers pushed his way into the face of Stafford and got a piece of the ball as Stafford let it go. The Lions were lucky that both passes weren’t picked.
The Packers took over and used runs by Lacy and a cross to Nelson to pick up a first down and drain the clock. Facing 3rd and 8 with 3:30 left, the Packers just gave it to Lacy to run the clock. The best Masthay could do from the Lions’ 43 was to kick it out of bounds at the 19. However, a penalty on the Lions forced them to start from their own 10.
On the very first play of their drive, Datone Jones rolled around an end collapsed by Peppers and got into Stafford’s face. Stafford clearly threw the ball away and the Packers were awarded the safety. That appeared to end the game until the next play.
1:50, 4th Quarter – The Lions took advantage of recovering an onside free kick to get a quick score to make the final tally 30-20.
At the end of the game against Buffalo, the Packers attempted an onside free kick and failed. The Lions did the same here. Except, instead of trying the more conventional bouncing kick that the Packers tried, the Lions kicked the ball up in the air, hoping to recover it. To counter this, several Packers, including both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb signaled for a fair catch, which would have forced the Lions to give them the opportunity to catch the ball. However, Jarrett Boykin was the closest to the ball, and he did not signal for a fair catch. Technically, it didn’t matter. The Lions gave Boykin plenty of room to catch the ball. Unfortunately, instead of running under the ball and cradling it, Boykin attempted to reach out for it at the last minute and the ball went right between his hands.
The ball bounced high in the air and deflected off the hand of Tramon Williams. The Lions mugged Cobb when he tried to recover it and came up with the ball themselves.
Starting from the Packers’ 44, the Lions scored against a backpedaling Packers defense at the 1:50 mark. Passes to Theo Riddick were the bulk of the drive, including the touchdown itself. The Lions went with a draw to Bell for the two-point conversion, which the refs initially said was good. However, the replay showed Bell’s posterior was down with the ball still inches short of the end zone. That failure ended the Lions’ hopes for good.
Morgan Burnett fumbled the following onside kick, but Tramon Williams came up with it. After three Lacy runs, the Lions did get the ball back one last time, which Mike Daniels greatly appreciated because it allowed him to add one more sack to his yearly total. Fittingly so, the game ended with a Stafford dump off to Riddick.
Just another season and another NFC North Division crown for the Packers. That is four in a row. The 12-4 record is good enough for the second seed in the NFC, meaning not only do the Packers get what is a very important bye at this point, but they will get to play their first playoff game at home.
That is very important, considering how the Packers have played at home versus on the road this season. Yes, the Packers have lost at Lambeau in the playoffs recently, including just last year to the San Francisco 49ers. However, the surging performance of the Packers’ offensive line and their run defense has given them a bigger advantage at home than they’ve had in recent years.
Plus, when watching this tape, I noticed something that I’ve never seen before — the crowd noise affecting the game. At times in this game, the Packers’ defensive line got off the ball like you see Seattle get off the ball at home. It helped the pass rush and allowed the defensive line to get into the backfield and stuff runs several times in this game.
As I said after the Tampa Bay game, Aaron Rodgers’ injury has the positive affect of keeping him in the pocket, looking for open receivers and dumping it off rather than looking to trying to escape. Rodgers is in a great rhythm right now. That was a pretty good defense that the Packers were working against, and similar to the game against Tampa, the only time the Packers didn’t move the ball into scoring territory while the game was still being contested was on Matt Flynn’s one series.
Talking about a rhythm, the Packers’ offensive line and the running game continues to build momentum at the perfect time. The Lions came into the game as the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL and the Packers rolled for 152 yards on the ground, with Lacy getting 100 of it. When you combine the running game with what Aaron Rodgers has been doing, you have an offense that essentially can only stop itself right now.
Take away the five minutes of game time before and after the half and the Packers were solid on defense against the Lions. Strangely reminiscent to the beginning of the season, the Packers were vulnerable at the edges. The Packers played a lot of their base defense in this game and it was mostly Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers who covered the edge. The Packers let Nick Perry and Mike Neal take the edge more often in the second half and both were better against the run.
The Packers will look to continue to improve on defense while maintaining their physicality on the offensive side of the ball.
The bottom line at this point is that the NFC is going to likely come down to three teams — the Seahawks, the Cowboys and the Packers. The Packers may have to beat a hot Dallas team at home and then a dominant-looking Seattle team in Seattle. That is what it comes down to. The Packers CAN do that if Rodgers is healthy enough and they continue to play at the level they played against the Lions. One bad game, on either side of the ball, and the season is over.