DETROIT — What has to kill defenders about Aaron Rodgers, what has to absolutely drive them crazy when they watch film or run back plays in their minds, is not that Rodgers makes plays that few, if any, other quarterbacks can make. It’s that time and again, those defenders must feel like they are so close to stopping him, only for Green Bay’s QB to tear out their hearts.
How many Lions narrowly missed dropping Rodgers for a sack Sunday night during the Packers’ NFC North-clinching 31–24 win? If not every member of the defensive line plus a linebacker or two, it sure felt that way. Save for one well-timed blitz by safety Tavon Wilson, Rodgers whirled and sprinted his way out of every rush.
How close was DeAndre Levy to reaching the sideline as Rodgers hurried up his offense to draw a too-many-men-on-the-field flag against Detroit? Six inches? A foot? Had Levy made it to his destination before the snap, Rodgers’s subsequent incompletion would have forced the Packers to punt, in a six-point game. Instead, handed an extra third down, Rodgers tossed an easy completion to Ty Montgomery to move the sticks. Green Bay later scored—Rodgers to Davante Adams—to ice the game.
This is why Rodgers will go down as one of the all-time greats. It’s why so many people expected the Packers to win Sunday, on the road with the division on the line.
Rodgers doesn’t just win games. He can demoralize opponents.
“He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever seen play the game,” says Green Bay DL Letroy Guion, who used to face Rodgers as a member of the Vikings. “I love that guy. ... That guy knows what he’s doing, he can move around the pocket, he feels pressure coming from no matter what angle. To me, he’s the greatest pocket QB ever.”
Arguably the biggest play Sunday night came early in the fourth quarter, with the Packers up by three but facing a 3rd-and-9 from the Detroit 10. Rodgers took a shotgun snap, spun away to his left from pressure up the middle, stopped, looked downfield, rolled farther left, then fired a dart off his back foot to WR Geronimo Allison in the end zone.
“I was actually looking for Davante [Adams] initially,” Rodgers says. “I wanted to get all the way outside ... I just saw Geronimo and tried to put it in a place where [he] could make a good catch.”
All told, Rodgers held the ball for nearly seven seconds before letting fly.
“About as fine a play ... I don’t want to say it’s his best, but it’s up there,” says Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy.
Green Bay will ride a six-game win streak into a home playoff game vs. the Giants next weekend, a stunning turnaround from where this team—and its QB—was when it sat 4–6, well off the NFC North pace. Even headed into Week 15, Detroit still led the division by two games.
The Lions lost their final three. The Packers won ’em all, just as Rodgers predicted they would after a loss in Washington on Nov. 20.
“That’s what you have to do sometimes as a leader,” Rodgers says. “Exude confidence even when it seems to the outside world confidence shouldn’t exist.”
This was a brutal, if almost predictable, way for the Lions to watch their NFC North dreams slip away. Playing their biggest home game in at least a decade (and maybe two), the Lions outplayed the Packers for much of the first half, then pulled ahead with 23 seconds left in the second quarter on a Matthew Stafford-to-Golden Tate TD.
A lot of other teams would have taken a knee after Detroit’s kickoff sailed into the end zone for a touchback. Not the Packers on this night. Not with Rodgers. Green Bay spread the field and let fly, Rodgers immediately extending a play by sliding right and finding Allison for 39 yards.
Four plays later, Mason Crosby boomed home a 53-yard field goal to pull the Packers within four. They would score on their first possession of the third quarter to take a 17–14 lead, and they never trailed again.
“It’s tough,” says Detroit safety Glover Quin, “because [Rodgers] gets to running around, and then the receivers get to running around and it’s kind of like streetball. You’re trying to keep up with guys, they’re not running specific routes, they’re just running around. So it’s difficult.”
A smidgen of Sunday night’s potential drama evaporated about an hour before kickoff, as the Giants closed out a road win over Washington. With that result, both the Packers and Lions clinched playoff spots. (Had the Redskins won, the Lions’ season now will be over.)
This was, though, an opportunity for the Lions to capture their first division crown since 1993, a drought which began two years after their still-only playoff victory in the Super Bowl era. Three hours before kickoff, thousands upon thousands of people stood lined up outside Ford Field, all but begging to get inside. And that crowd helped force the Packers into several false start calls, the offense’s timing thrown off ever so slightly by the noise.
By the two-minute warning, the only fans left were wearing Green Bay colors. The rest walked off, like their team, frustrated and fatigued by another gem of a game from Rodgers.
“Our coaches emphasize to block for infinity,” Green Bay OT David Bakhtiari says. “Guys usually block [a defender’s] first and second reactions, but our coaches do a great job teaching us block the third, fourth, fifth reaction. ...
“If we can give Aaron that extra second or two, he’ll do exactly what he did.”