Alex Green had the best rushing day of his career Sunday, his 69 yards (5.3 ypc) leading a Packers attack that totaled 140 yards on just 25 carries. (Darren Hauck/Reuters)
Without making the Lions sound worse than they are, the Detroit-Green Bay clashes often feel a bit like one of those 3-vs.-14 games in the NCAA basketball tournament.
If you look closely enough, you'll find reason to believe an upset is possible -- an advantageous matchup here, a positive trend there. Heck, that underdog team might even start hot or pull off a stunner every once in awhile.
Usually, as has been the case with this rivalry, the favorite finds a way to get the job done. Green Bay did it again Sunday, on a snowy, perfectly Lambeau Field type of night, spotting the Lions 14 points early before storming back for a 27-17 win.
"It's an ugly win," Aaron Rodgers told NBC's Michelle Tafoya after the game. "But ugly wins are a lot better than tough losses."
That outcome made it 21 straight home regular-season wins for Green Bay over the Lions, and victories in 22 of 26 overall against Detroit dating back to the start of the millennium. Even between two teams so clearly separated by success and failure, the Packers' ownership of their division rival has been borderline inexplicable.
But each time the Lions seem like they might be on the cusp of closing the gap, something goes terribly awry.
Last season, it was Matt Flynn subbing in for a resting Aaron Rodgers and throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns. Sunday night, the now 4-9 Lions played about as well as they can for the first 19 minutes or so, stifling Aaron Rodgers and dominating time of possession.
And then, as always, disaster.
With the Lions driving again near midfield, Matthew Stafford dropped back to throw a simple screen pass. The ball slipped out of his hands, and Green Bay's Mike Daniels, a 291-pound behemoth of a man, scooped it up and rumbled 43 yards for a touchdown.
Detroit still took a 14-10 lead to halftime, but -- considering that the Lions held a 219-94 yardage edge and a 22:41-7:19 time of possession advantage -- the Packers knew they were right where they wanted to be.
Green Bay then getting from Point A to Point B and rallying for the win was no surprise; how the Packers did it was a curve ball. Specifically, by grinding the Lions down up front with an invigorated run game.
It was Rodgers himself who started the ground assault, dancing out of a potential sack on third down and turning upfield for a 27-yard touchdown to put the Packers ahead for the first time, 17-14.
DuJuan Harris, recently promoted from the practice squad, later gave Green Bay the lead for good, blasting through an opening for a 14-yard TD. Harris' score staked the Packers to a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter, which they did not relinquish.
"It's getting better," said Rodgers of his team's run game. "Teams are playing (with two deep safeties) -- we have to run it until they come out of that.
"DuJuan Harris, he could be special down the road ... and I had a little run myself."
The Packers' defense did its job too, after a shaky start. Stafford capped Detroit's sensational opening drive, which lasted nearly eight minutes, by scoring on a 4th-and-1 naked bootleg. The Lions' next possession ate up nearly six minutes and ended with a Stafford TD pass to Tony Scheffler.
From there, Green Bay's D forced a pair of turnovers and outscored the Lions' offense, 7-6, thanks to Daniels' good fortune. The Packers did allow Calvin Johnson to post 118 yards receiving (he's now just 302 yards shy of Jerry Rice's single-season yardage record), but he had no catches of longer than 20 yards.
Since collapsing in a 38-10 Week 12 loss to the Giants, Green Bay has bounced back to stymie both Minnesota and Detroit. And the Pack should have Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson back for a crucial Week 15 showdown with Chicago.
"I think (the defense is) positioned well," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We get back Clay and Charles, and our (defense) is going to get that much better."
The potential returns of Matthews and Woodson could further buoy the surging Packers -- they'll head to Chicago as winners of seven of eight and in first place in the NFC North; the Bears, with losses in four of five games, now find themselves clinging to a playoff spot.
The Packers have had the Bears' number lately too, with five straight wins in the classic rivalry.
That hot streak is still nothing compared to what Green Bay has done to the Lions over the years. One way or another, the Packers have come up with win after win at the expense of the Motor City's franchise.
Detroit was right there again Sunday, smelling that upset like a Cinderella in March. Instead, the Packers flexed their muscles and the script played out much as it usually does when these two teams get together.
A Packers win, a Lions loss, and just enough evidence to argue that the deserved outcome occurred.