Packers defeat Detroit, 27-20, to set up NFC North showdown at Soldier Field
Green Bay Packers News – To take command in the NFC North Division, the Green Bay Packers first needed to take control of the Detroit Lions.
Blessed with good field position in the fourth quarter of a tie game, the Packers’ offense went to work, but not in customary fashion. Instead of airing it out, Aaron Rodgers handed off on seven straight plays as a trio of running backs gained 59 of the team’s 140 yards rushing.
DuJuan Harris, promoted from the Packers’ practice squad last week, capped the drive by scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a 14-yard sprint with 10:45 to play. It gave Green Bay a 24-17 lead it never relinquished.
The Packers (9-4) went on to win, 27-20, and can clinch the division title with a victory against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
“The main thing is we won,” Rodgers said. “We’re first in the division by a game and we put ourselves in good position, not only for the division but potentially for a first-round bye. The division is our first goal. … We can wrap things up next week. It’s a tough opponent, a tough place to play. There’s a lot on the line.”
The Lions (4-9) lost their fifth straight, including their 22nd straight against the Packers in Wisconsin, but not before putting up a fight.
“I was thinking this would be a waste of a beautiful day, to end that streak (over the Lions),” Rodgers said. “Playing in the snow, a great crowd … hopefully we can keep that streak going as long as I’m playing here.”
It seemed in jeopardy early on.
Detroit led 14-0 in the second quarter before Green Bay’s defense countered with a big play. After a Mason Crosby field goal made it 14-3, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford fumbled while trying to throw. Green Bay’s Mike Daniels recovered and raced 43 yards for a touchdown.
“Mike Daniels’ play was the momentum shift for us that we needed,” McCarthy said. “That was a big play.”
The Lions dominated statistically, especially in the first half, but the Packers stayed cool and kept counterpunching. The Packers’ defense allowed just two field goals in the second half, and the offense delivered with two touchdown drives whose makeup was entirely different.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy opened the second half by going with a no-huddle offense and throwing it out of shotgun.
Rodgers hit five of six passes on a seven-play drive that included one run by Alex Green, and a 27-yard scramble and touchdown by Rodgers. The “pass first” mentality inexplicably seemed to put the Lions’ defense on its heels.
After the teams twice traded possessions, and a snow-covered crowd braced for a wild fourth quarter, the Packers imposed their will again.
This time they did it on the ground with a real, bona fide running attack.
While the Packers’ defense and special teams were strong in victory, the offense unveiled a previously non-existent balance. What made it even more impressive was that it came against a well-rested Lions defense.
Detroit outgained Green Bay (386 to 288), ran more plays (78 to 52) and held the ball 16 minutes longer than the Packers.
Still, Green Bay’s reconfigured offensive line held up. Rodgers was sacked three times and the victim of several borderline cheap hits, so there’s plenty of work to be done. However, the o-line came through when it mattered most.
The Packers’ running attack was diverse and well-executed.
Green Bay pulled guards, mixed the deep I-formation with the shotgun and sealed the edge against the Lions’ defense ends.
Green rushed 13 times for 69 yards and a healthy 5.3 average per carry. Harris averaged 4.4 yards with 31 yards in seven carries, and Grant added 13 yards on his lone crowd-pleasing attempt.
Green seemed comfortable, and Harris flashed exceptional quickness. Grant’s presence surely solidifies a running back unit that has bears little resemblance to the Cedric Benson-James Starks plan a few months ago.
Defensively, the Packers survived again without Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, although both could be back for the Bears game. Cornerback Sam Shields celebrated his return from injury with four tackles and a nifty game-sealing interception.
Now it’s on to Chicago with a chance to sew up a division crown. The Packers come in with a balanced offense, an opportunistic defense and solid special teams. Winners in six of their last seven games, the Packers are playing their best football as December unfolds.
As the post-season draws near, the Packers are slowly but surely improving and coming together as a team.
The payoff is at hand.
Last week’s prediction: Packers 35, Lions 21 (Packers, 27-20)
This week’s prediction: Packers 24, Bears 23
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.