Ndamukong Suh sacks Matt Flynn for a third-quarter safety. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Last time Matt Flynn faced the Detroit Lions, it was Jan. 1, 2012, and he lit Detroit's depleted secondary up for a Green Bay Packers franchise-record six touchdowns in a 45-41 Green Bay win as Aaron Rodgers rested on the sideline. The Pack had wrapped up home-field advantage through the playoffs, so it was the smart call. Especially for Flynn, who was able to do this because the Lions' secondary frequently left cow pastures around his receivers.
Flynn parlayed that game into a three-year, $26 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks, which never paid off because Flynn was ousted as Seattle's starter in 2012 by Russell Wilson. Flynn was traded to the Oakland Raiders in April, bounced around a bit with the Buffalo Bills after his Oakland release and was re-signed by the Packers on Nov. 11 after Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone and backup Seneca Wallace was lost for the year to a groin injury. After making a lot of money to do very little, Flynn was able to come home again and hoped for a repeat performance against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.
"We got him paid, and I don’t know what his career’s done since then," Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy said earlier this month about Flynn's one-game wonder.
In the rematch, Flynn fell back to earth with a rather large thud, while Levy continued on a historic track. No linebacker in the modern era has ever led the NFL in interceptions over a full season, and Levy is currently on pace to do so with six. He added the sixth against Flynn as part of a day that Green Bay's backup quarterback will want to forget as soon as possible. He completed just 10 of 20 passes for 139 yards with no touchdowns and the interception to Levy, and he was sacked seven times as the Lions rolled to a 40-10 victory. Detroit has the lead in the NFC North with seven wins and the home-and-home advantage against the 6-4 Chicago Bears, who face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
You don't often see a 30-point win that was more of a blowout than the final score indicates, but had the Lions stayed out of their own way early on, it could have been even uglier for the Packers, who are now 0-4-1 since Rodgers was injured against the Bears on Nov. 10. Detroit's first four drives featured two lost fumbles -- one each by Matthew Stafford and Reggie Bush -- a Stafford interception and a field goal. In the first quarter, Detroit gained 159 yards and came up with no points to show for it.
However, that ratio turned around pretty quickly as Green Bay's reeling defense -- the real reason for the team's misfortunes this season -- had no answers for what the Lions were doing. Stafford finished with 22 completions in 35 attempts for 330 yards and three touchdowns, peppering nearly his entire offensive roster with passes and hitting 11 receivers in the process. Bush atoned for his early fumble by gaining 117 yards on 20 carries on the ground and adding another 65 yards on five catches.
"The big guys up front," Stafford said of his underrated offensive line, when asked how his team was able to turn things around. "When we can run the football, we're tough to stop with the weapons we have on the outside. We turned the ball over too many times today, but our defense did a great job and kept getting the ball back for us."
It was the first time that a Lions team quarterbacked by Stafford had beaten the Packers and the first Thanksgiving win for Detroit since 2003.
"This was a great day for us. It was tough in the beginning when we had a few turnovers," Bush said. "Obviously, as an offense, we pride ourselves on not turning the ball over. We hurt our team a little bit, but we were able to battle back, and I think that's the biggest thing we can take away from this -- we fought back from adversity and came up with a win."
The Packers certainly helped. They gained just 43 total yards in the first half, the lowest team total since 1997, and rarely put more than one successful play together. An offensive line beset by injuries and ineffectiveness -- and no longer covered up by Rodgers' ability to get rid of the ball quickly and productively -- was overwhelmed when protecting Flynn. Green Bay's quarterback frequently held the ball too long and failed to find open reads. While the Lions were putting up 561 total yards, the Pack could respond with just 126 -- their lowest yardage total since 1978.
"We have a very dynamic team, and I think we showed that," Bush concluded. "For us, the biggest thing is that when we learn to get out of our way, we can be pretty special. We did that today. This is only one game, but it helps us on the way to winning the division."
It was a total victory for Detroit's offense. Joique Bell added to the rushing total with 97 yards of his own, and it was the ground attack that seemed to define this game as it rarely does for a team that regularly leads the NFL in passing attempts. Detroit amassed 30 first downs to Green Bay's 7 and held the ball for more than 40 minutes on the day. Not that the Packers were going to do much with their chances on offense, but they didn't have too many either -- they ran just 42 plays to Detroit's 79.
Earlier in the week, Packers guard Josh Sitton upped the ante for this rivalry when he took verbal shots at the Lions' coaching staff, calling them "dirtbags" and "scumbags."
"Absolutely," he said on Tuesday. "They go after quarterbacks. Their entire defense takes cheap shots all the time. That's what they do; that's who they are. They're a bunch of dirtbags or scumbags. That's how they play. That's how they're coached.
"That starts with their frickin' coach. The head coach, [Jim] Schwartz, he's a d---, too. I wouldn't want to play for him. It starts with him and their D-coordinator and D-line coach. They're all just scumbags and so is the D-line."
However, it was the Packers who lost control in this game, especially when cornerback Tramon Williams shoved back judge Dino Paganelli after Bell scored a one-yard rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter. From start to finish, it was a debacle for the Packers, who seem to be just as lost without Rodgers as the 2011 Indianapolis Colts were without Peyton Manning. And as the 2008 New England Patriots proved when they went 11-5 without Tom Brady, such a dropoff from starter to backup is emblematic of a team with very little depth and very little defense.
"We don't feel very good about ourselves right now," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said after the loss. "We're a wounded team that got drilled today."
The coach refused to blame his quarterback, perhaps remembering that Flynn was no better as a player when he shocked this same opponent with a record-setting touchdown barrage less than three years ago.
"I don't really feel that Matt had a lot of great opportunities. It wasn't just one person's problem today."
Solving those problems this season seems like a stretch, even when Rodgers is able to return. As for the Lions, it's all about mistake prevention and limiting them to the guys with the different uniforms. Self-sabotage has been a team trait, through the talent has improved exponentially in the last few years, but perhaps this Detroit team is ready to move past that and into a different stratosphere.