All But Dead, First-Place Packers Are Alive and Kicking
The Green Bay Packers appeared to be dead any number of times against the Detroit Lions on Monday.
They were dead when they fell behind 13-0.
They were dead when they rallied to a 13-13 tie but turned over the ball on Darrius Shepherd’s muffed punt
They were dead when an Aaron Rodgers pass near the goal line bounced off Shepherd’s head and into the hands of Lions cornerback Justin Coleman for the third turnover of the night.
Instead, the Packers are alive and well – and in first place in the NFC North with a lofty 5-1 record – following an improbable 23-22 victory. Mason Crosby kicked a 23-yard field goal on the game’s final play, then celebrated with perhaps the worst Lambeau Leap of all-time.
“Was it bad?” Rodgers asked? “Well, the kickers aren’t supposed to be the most athletic guys on the squad. But he’s got a job to do and he does it well. I’ll be looking forward to that film of him trying to get up there.”
The interception on the pass to Shepherd was the Packers’ third turnover of the night. When Matt Prater drilled his fifth field goal of the night, a 54-yarder with 12:17 to go to put the Lions in front 22-13, the Packers’ goose appeared to be cooked. After all, where was Rodgers going to go with the ball? Davante Adams was inactive with turf toe, Geronimo Allison was lost early in the third quarter with a chest injury and potential concussion, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling was playing hurt after being bent backward in the second quarter.
Rodgers didn’t get the memo. Instead, with Shepherd on the bench, Allen Lazard was thrust into the game. One play after Rodgers’ deep pass to Lazard fell incomplete, Rodgers went deep to Lazard again. The ball was perfect and Lazard made a tumbling catch for a touchdown to cut the margin to 22-20 with 9:03 remaining.
“It felt great for him to call my number and throw an amazing ball and put it right there in the breadbasket,” Lazard said.
The Packers needed a stop and got one. On back-to-back plays, safety Will Redmond and cornerback Jaire Alexander broke up passes to Detroit’s Marvin Jones. That gave Green Bay the ball at its 18 with 6:46 to go for a do-or-die final drive.
“I don’t think anything needed to be said,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said.
With a banged-up Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow and Lazard as the receivers, Rodgers went to work. On second-and-5, he hit Lazard, who bullied his way for a gain of 12. On second-and-8, Rodgers scrambled for 12. On second-and-7, Rodgers zinged the ball across the field to tight end Jimmy Graham for 9. On second-and-8, Rodgers again went to Lazard, this time for a gain of 15 to the Lions’ 22.
On third-and-4 from the 16, Rodgers had nowhere to go with the ball and was sacked, but Lions defensive end Trey Flowers was flagged for illegal use of hands. The resulting first down allowed the Packers to drain the clock. On first down from the 11, the Lions tried to let Jamaal Williams score but Williams alertly slid to the turf at the 3.
“We have a name for that, a Rolex situation, meaning we want the clock to keep running and we’re not scoring,” LaFleur said.
Rodgers took a couple of knees to burn off the rest of the time and Crosby hit the chip-shot field goal as time expired.
“It was a character win,” Rodgers said. “That’s what I said in the locker room. What that means is it revealed a lot about our squad, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The way they played in the second half was pretty impressive. Offensively, I feel like we’ve done this a good amount so far starting the season, but we finished the game well.
“But a lot of resilience with our guys. Matt (LaFleur) talks a lot about kind of a no-blink mentality. I think that just means you move onto the next play, and you have a short memory. That’s important in this business. Clichés aside, it’s really about the confidence. We’re a very confident group, and even though we got punched in the mouth a little bit to start the game, I think we responded the right way.”
Detroit (2-2-1), which was coming off its bye, had won four in a row against the Packers.
Less than 17 minutes into the game, the Lions led 13-0. It could have been much, much worse.
On the first play of the game, Detroit offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell dialed up a flea-flicker, with running back Kerryon Johnson flipping the ball back to quarterback Matthew Stafford, who hit receiver Marvin Jones for a gain of 66 against cornerback Kevin King. The Lions managed only a field goal, though, as Stafford collided with fullback Nick Bawden on first down and fumbled for a loss of 5, then slipped and fell on a third-down pass.
On the first play of Detroit’s next series, Stafford went after King again with a bomb to Marvin Hall. A backpedaling King fell and Hall had a catch-and-run gain of 58 to the 16. This time, the Lions punched it in on Johnson’s fourth-and-goal plunge from the 1.
After Green Bay’s first possession ended with a dropped pass, Aaron Jones fumbled with the Packers approaching scoring position on their second possession. The Lions moved the ball to the 2 before a delay-of-game penalty, which forced another chip-shot field goal by Prater.
“That was the story of the game, in my opinion,” Stafford said. “I thought our defense played well enough for us to win the game. We made some big plays on offense that we shouldn’t have blown in the red zone. We can’t do that on the road against a good team. That made the plays at the end of the game to beat us.”
Rodgers threw for 283 yards as Green Bay won for the second consecutive week without Adams. Up next is Oakland, a surprising 3-2 and coming off its bye.
“It’s big,” Rodgers said of the team’s 3-0 start in the division. “Obviously, last year we were so bad in the division. This year, to be 3-0 for the first time since 2012 is pretty fun. We know what’s in front of us. We’ve got a stretch now of seven games out of the division and finish with three in the division. So, we’ve got to put ourselves in position to make a run. We’ve done our part so far in the division because obviously our division is deep and we’ve got some really good teams.”