DETROIT — The play call was ... well, there wasn't one, really. Heck, the Packers didn't even have the right personnel on the field for their final snap Thursday night. But it worked.
Hail Mary. Touchdown. Miracle.
“Just get down there, box guys out,” said Packers receiver Jeff Janis. “If things don't go right, you've got to make a play.”
Richard Rodgers did, drifting uncovered into the end zone and leaping in front of a mess of players to haul down a 61-yard game-winner. He actually stepped in front of Davante Adams, for whom Aaron Rodgers intended the desperation heave.
“It's for me,” Adams said. “Richard's supposed to box out and keep guys away ... [Aaron is] supposed to throw it up and I try to catch it. If it gets deflected other guys are there. But Richard had other plans and it was a great plan.”
Green Bay had lined up for what appeared to be the final snap seconds earlier. Down by two and on their own 21, the Packers had no choice but to lateral their way down the field. They barely had gained any yards when Richard Rodgers tossed it back to Aaron Rodgers, who had no teammates to help him. That should have been it.
Instead, the Lions being the Lions and all, Rodgers was taken down by what was ruled a face mask. (Replays seemed to show otherwise.) “I think we had some karma saved up there after the no [pass interference],” Rodgers said, referencing an incomplete deep ball thrown Jared Abbrederis's way in the closing seconds, on which the Packers' sideline wanted a flag against Detroit's Isa Abdul-Quddus.
That call would have moved the Packers into field-goal range with time to spare. The face mask bought them one more, untimed shot at the end zone.
They did not sub between the penultimate snap and the actual last play, though, leaving them scrambling even more than usual on their Hail Mary attempt. Normally, Rodgers explained, the Packers would have had a running back in to block instead of the five-wide set that was on the field.
And as for the play call?
“Well ...” Janis laughed when asked. “Pretty much just playground ball.”
There is not always a real explanation for how a winner is crowned in these games. The Packers' 27–23 win Thursday night matched the scoreline of the epic Michigan State-Michigan meeting from just a few weeks back, which Michigan State won by returning a botched punt for a touchdown.
“You live for those moments, the ball in your hand late,” Rodgers said. “We've had some frustrations the last couple weeks. Sometimes it takes a little miracle like that.”
The Lions were on the verge of locking up their fourth consecutive win numerous times. They led 17–0 at halftime and 20–0 after a Matt Prater field goal in the third quarter. Later, they answered two rapid-fire Green Bay scores with another lengthy scoring drive.
When facing a third-and-12, Matthew Stafford gunned a fastball in to T.J. Jones for 29 yards, the outcome inched even closer to being decided. Detroit eventually punted, but Green Bay took over possession on its own 21, with 23 seconds left and no timeouts.
Remarkably, the game still got away.
“Man, I'm still in shock,” Glover Quin said. “I really don't know how to feel about what just happened. That's crazy, but it shows that the game is not over until there are zero seconds on the clock, and sometimes even then it's not over.”
The ending was fluky, sure, but the fallout is no less important. The Packers' season was on life support before the Rodgers-to-Rodgers prayer—a loss would have been their fifth in sixth games, crippling their playoff hopes. On the other hand, Detroit was rolling with an energy it hadn't felt all year, winners of three straight and one lousy snap from sweeping its season series with the Packers.
Green Bay was the far worse team for a significant chunk of the night, too. Saddled with a depleted offensive line and a struggling receiving corps, the offense spun its wheels in the mud for 30-plus minutes.
The Lions, not the Packers, looked like the playoff team.
Everything changed in the time it took Aaron Rodgers to step away from pressure and launch a pass so high that it felt like it might scrape the Ford Field roof.
“This one goes right to the top,” Rodgers said, “right below the feeling when the ball hit the ground in the Super Bowl [XLV].”
Moments after Thursday's game ended, Rodgers strolled from the showers to his locker, a towel around his waist and another slung over his shoulders, a smirk on his face. He stopped to glance at something on a teammate's phone, then kept walking through the boisterous locker room, smiling all the way.
All around him, his teammates tried to explain the unexplainable. The truth is, they were as stunned as everyone else.
“It's the greatest feeling,” Rodgers said. “We're blessed to play this game. You live for days like this.”