Packers earn first-round bye with win over Lions
The Sports Xchange GREEN BAY -- The Green Bay Packers earned a first-round postseason bye. And they will need it. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers aggravated a calf injury and missed two series but returned to help the Packers beat the Detroit Lions 30-...
The Sports Xchange
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers earned a first-round postseason bye.
And they will need it.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers aggravated a calf injury and missed two series but returned to help the Packers beat the Detroit Lions 30-20 Sunday in the de facto NFC North championship game at Lambeau Field.
With their record 24th consecutive home victory over the Lions, the Packers (12-4) captured their fourth straight NFC North title and a coveted bye. Green Bay will enter the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the NFC, with the defending champion Seattle Seahawks beating the St. Louis Rams on Sunday to earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
Rodgers completed 17-of-22 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. After some prodding of the medical staff, Rodgers re-entered the game.
“I was kind of battling to get back out there and it was kind of one battle at a time,” Rodgers said. “Battle to be able to get taped back up and see if you can do anything on the sidelines. Once you get out there, I felt pretty good on the sidelines, knew it was going to be kind of like last week, not being able to move a whole lot. But just felt like if I could get back in there it might give us a little jolt.”
Jolt, indeed, with the Packers scoring 16 consecutive points to break open a 14-14 game. Following the injury, he went 11-of-13 for 129 yards and a touchdown despite his obviously limited ability to move in the pocket.
“Aaron Rodgers, I don’t know what to say about him,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “The fact that he can come back out after the calf injury and to perform on a limited game plan and play at the level he continues to play at, that he played at, I thought was extraordinary. It was clearly an MVP performance, another MVP performance by Aaron Rodgers.”
The Lions (11-5) fell all the way to the No. 6 seed and play at the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys in a wild-card game next weekend.
“This game is behind us now,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “We made the playoffs, so to drop our heads about this one would be hazardous to our future. We earned a playoff berth before this game. Did we want this game? Did we want the division title? Yes, definitely, but we are in the playoffs and it is a new season now.”
First-year Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who in his first season tied the franchise record for wins, wants the team looking forward with a difficult challenge next week.
“I don’t think we need external motivation,” he said. “There is certainly some disappointment there and we can use that as fuel for our next opponent.”
Rodgers was injured while throwing a second-quarter touchdown pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb. Rodgers, who hurt his left calf during the first quarter of last week’s win at Tampa Bay, scrambled to his right on first-and-goal from the 4. He appeared to re-injure the calf just before throwing the ball to Cobb in the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
A raucous Lambeau Field crowd quickly fell silent as the MVP candidate lay on the ground clutching his leg.
Backup quarterback Matt Flynn took the final possession of the first half, a handoff to run out the clock, and the first possession of the second half, a three-and-out punt. With Green Bay’s punt unit on the field, Rodgers came out of the tunnel to a loud ovation, walked to the sideline and started warming up.
In the meantime, Detroit drove 77 yards for touchdown in the final minute of the first half, then marched 51 yards for the game-tying touchdown in the third quarter. Quarterback Matthew Stafford converted a third-and-10 with a 12-yard completion to wide receiver Golden Tate and a fourth-and-1 with a sneak before throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Stafford and Johnson hooked up for a 20-yard score late in the second quarter.
With the game tied at 14, the stage was set for Rodgers.
“As bad as it felt, I thought if I can go out there and be able to do some things and we win, I get another week to rehab it,” Rodgers said. “That was definitely in my mind.”
Rodgers immediately worked his magic with two big completions to Cobb. The first was a 29-yarder to the Lions’ 19. The second came on third-and-4, a 13-yard touchdown strike as Cobb caught the ball at the 10 on a crossing route against cornerback Cassius Vaughn and leapt into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
The Packers forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and Rodgers drove the team into scoring possession. However, Detroit’s Isa Abdul-Quddus blocked Mason Crosby’s 52-yard field-goal attempt. However, the Lions couldn’t take advantage of excellent field position, as Stafford and running back Joique Bell flubbed the handoff on the first play of the ensuing possession.
The Packers made the Lions pay. Rodgers fired a 6-yard pass to tight end Richard Rodgers against linebacker Tahir Whitehead to convert a third-and-4, and a 15-yard completion to wide receiver Jordy Nelson set up Aaron Rodgers’ 1-yard sneak to make it 28-14 with 8:45 remaining.
Stafford was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, making it 30-14, but the Lions got the ball on the free kick. Stafford fired a 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Theo Riddick but, on review, Bell was deemed short of the goal line on the two-point play. That made it 30-20 with 1:45 to go and ended Detroit’s hopes.
Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy rushed for 100 yards on 26 carries -- the first individual 100-yard game against Detroit’s top-ranked run defense this season.
“We knew going in that we would need to stop the run game,” Ihedigbo said. “They ran the ball well. We need to tackle better personally and as a collective group. They had a few times where they were able to move the pile for extra yards. We can’t have that. We know as a group that, as a top defense in this league, we didn’t play like that for 60 minutes.”
The Packers drew first blood. After a bumbling goal-line possession in which they couldn’t punch it in on five snaps from the 1- or 2-yard line, Micah Hyde returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown. He broke a tackle by Jed Collins and got big blocks from Brad Jones, Demetri Goodson and HaHa Clinton-Dix.
After Rodgers threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Cobb to give the Packers a 14-0 lead with 2:24 left in the half, Stafford led a critical two-minute drill. On third-and-13, Stafford’s pass was deflected by Jones, but the linebacker clipped the side of Stafford’s helmet. The 15-yard penalty set up Stafford’s 20-yard bullet to Johnson for a touchdown with 24 seconds left in the half.
NOTES: CB Micah Hyde’s first-quarter punt return for a touchdown was the third of his career, tying the franchise record held by Desmond Howard and Will Blackmon. ... The Lions entered the game allowing 63.5 rushing yards per game, one of the best marks in NFL history. The Packers finished with 152 rushing yards. ... Lions WR Calvin Johnson scored two touchdowns, giving him 14 in 14 career games against the Packers. ... Green Bay had seven kicks blocked this season. ... WR Jordy Nelson set the Packers’ single-season record for receiving yards with a fourth-quarter catch, and he finished at 1,519. Robert Brooks held the old mark with 1,497 yards in 1995. ... The Lions entered the game with a league-best 12-game streak with an interception but came up empty against QB Aaron Rodgers, who has a league-record streak of 418 attempts since his last interception at home.