Rodgers leads Packers to big showdown

The Sports Xchange NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers went over the top as a way of saying "thanks" to some of the teammates who mean a great deal to him. The Green Bay Packers' locker room at Lambeau Field resembled an electronics...

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) smiles on the sidelines against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium Dec. 21. Green Bay Packers defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-3.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Sports Xchange

NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers went over the top as a way of saying "thanks" to some of the teammates who mean a great deal to him.

The Green Bay Packers' locker room at Lambeau Field resembled an electronics showroom Wednesday. Boxes containing big-screen TVs measuring 55 inches sat in the locker stalls of the team's offensive linemen and also Rodgers' understudies at quarterback, Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien.

"Aaron Claus," a grateful left tackle David Bakhtiari uttered.


"That's just his characteristic, a characteristic of who he is," astonished rookie center Corey Linsley said. "It's not that I expected that by any means, but when he does something like that, it's like, 'That's Aaron. That's who he is.'"

While Rodgers' effusive giving ahead of Christmas struck an overjoyed chord among recipients, Green Bay will be counting on its leader to be in a greedy mood after the holiday.

The Packers' home matchup with the Detroit Lions on Sunday isn't an ordinary regular-season finale. At stake in the game that was pushed back to a 3:25 p.m. kickoff Central time is the NFC North title.

"There's a lot on the line," Rodgers said matter-of-factly. "It's an opportunity to win our fourth straight division title, which would be pretty sweet. We get a chance for a bye (in the playoffs), which would be great to get some rest for all of us. A home playoff game is the most important thing - that's what we play for every year - especially the way we've been playing at home."

Short of maintaining its unblemished record (7-0) at Lambeau this season, the Packers face an unenviable task going into the playoffs right away next week.

A loss, or even a tie, against Detroit would lock up the first division title for the Lions since 1993. The Lions also are motivated to end a staggering 23-game losing streak to the Packers in Wisconsin - Detroit's last road win against Green Bay was Dec. 15, 1991, at Lambeau.

Both teams come in with an 11-4 record, and the Packers must win Sunday to reign again in the NFC North after they lost 19-7 to the Lions in a miserable performance by the Rodgers-led offense at Detroit's Ford Field on Sept. 21.

Receiver Randall Cobb called the 223 total yards for Green Bay, which remains a season low, "an embarrassment."


The Packers will have to make amends in the rematch to avoid dropping to the No. 6 seed in the NFC and having to play every potential game in the postseason on the road. Rodgers knows engineering a favorable turnaround won't be easy against the Lions' second-ranked defense, which dares opponents to run the football.

"People have been trying to throw it on them ... averaging close to 40 attempts passing the ball per game and in the mid-20s running it," Rodgers said. "It's tough to move the ball on this team because they're so stout up front. You just know it's going to be a game where you have to be very efficient throwing the ball and you have to look for those opportunities for extended plays in the run game and the pass game."

The latter has been vital for Green Bay's sixth-rated and potent offense for most of the season. However, Rodgers' uncanny ability to break down defenses by extending plays with his mobility outside the pocket was rendered almost nonexistent after he suffered a strained left calf early in Green Bay's 20-3 win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday.

Rodgers played hurt for most of that game, and he isn't out of the woods with the injury going into the showdown with the Lions. He practiced in limited fashion Tuesday and Wednesday, hoping the team's two straight days off the field Thursday (because of Christmas) and Friday will benefit him by the weekend.

"Aaron was playing today," head coach Mike McCarthy said after Wednesday's practice. "Obviously, he was listed (on the injury report) as limited. He did all of the pre-practice work, no-huddle, and then we had a segment there in practice where he was able to get some rehab done, and then he was back outside for the team stuff. He basically got done what he needed to get done today, and he's getting better."

With McCarthy adding that Rodgers did throw the ball around Wednesday, the Packers may need him to do plenty of that Sunday.

The Lions have been Scrooge-like throughout the season with their run defense, giving up an average of only 63.8 rush yards per game to rank No. 1 in the league.

In the teams' Week 3 encounter in the Motor City, Detroit limited the Packers to 76 rushing yards with only 36 yards in 11 carries by featured back Eddie Lacy, who had a costly fumble that was returned for a touchdown early in the game.


"First and foremost, you have to stop the run," said tackle Ndamukong Suh, the rugged anchor of Detroit's robust defensive line. "Eddie Lacy is a dominant force, and I think when he's rolling, he's got their offense moving forward on the ground (and) that's where you struggle. Then, you have a two-headed sword you have to deal with and then go from there."

SERIES HISTORY: 169th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 94-67-7. Thanks to a 19-7 victory at Detroit in Week 3 this season, the Lions have won back-to-back games over Green Bay for the first time since the 1998 and '99 seasons. Since then, Green Bay has won 24 of the last 30 meetings with the NFC North rival. The Packers seek to extend their legendary winning streak of 23 games against Detroit in Wisconsin, which includes a 16-12 triumph in a wild-card playoff game in the 1994 season. The Lions' last road win in the series was 21-17 at Lambeau Field on Dec. 15, 1991.


NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - NOTES, QUOTES

--PLAYOFF PICTURE FOR PACKERS: Clinched playoff berth), vs. Lions on Sunday

Clinch NFC North and first-round bye with win

Clinch home-field advantage with win + Seahawks loss/tie

--Five players are ticketed for the Pro Bowl.

Yet, the Packers' preference is to send their entire roster to the Arizona desert next month, when Super Bowl XLIX will be played a week after the all-star game at the same venue, University of Phoenix Stadium.

As it stands, playoff-bound Green Bay, which hosts the Detroit Lions on Sunday in a regular-season finale that will determine the NFC North champion, is reveling in the honors bestowed on a number of deserving players Tuesday night.

Whether the quintet of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Jordy Nelson, fullback John Kuhn, left guard Josh Sitton and linebacker Clay Matthews winds up playing in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 25 hinges on the Packers' postseason fate for trying to get to the league title game Feb. 1.

It would be the first Pro Bowl for Nelson, who has career highs of 92 catches and 1,433 receiving yards. His 13 touchdown receptions are two short of his personal best going into the last regular-season game.

"To be honored with a Pro Bowl selection, I don't know how to explain it," said Nelson, a seventh-year pro. "It's just great to be recognized by your peers, coaches and fans for what you are able to do on the field and what our team has been able to do on the field. The recognition comes with the team's success."

Green Bay's prolific offense is well-represented with the four Pro Bowl selections after then-rookie halfback Eddie Lacy was the team's lone all-star choice last season.

The last time the Packers had as many as four players on offense tabbed to the all-star game was 2011 with Rodgers, Kuhn, receiver Greg Jennings and center Scott Wells.

"Without a doubt, the key to our success this year has been everybody pulling their weight," said Rodgers, a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

"I think we always talk about anytime the team has success, individuals off of that are going to get success as well," Rodgers added. "It is fun to be a part of a great organization and a team that has a chance to do some special things in the playoffs, and individual recognition always feels good."

Kuhn and Sitton are two-time honorees, though Sitton's inaugural appearance in the Pro Bowl after the 2012 season came as an alternate.

"It definitely does mean more (this time)," Sitton said.

Green Bay's alternates in the Pro Bowl voting are left tackle David Bakhtiari, receiver Randall Cobb, Lacy, right guard T.J. Lang, linebacker Julius Peppers and cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams.

--Matthews leads the team's Pro Bowl contingent with his fifth selection in just six pro seasons.

That sets Matthews apart among Green Bay's all-star linebackers. Matthews previously was tied with Bill Forester (1959-62) for the most Pro Bowl selections at the position with four.

After not being chosen in an injury-marred 2013 season, Matthews' nod this week coincides with him playing at an elite level down the stretch this season. He had a season-high 2.5 sacks in the Packers' 20-3 win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday and has a team-best 10 sacks this season.

Matthews, whose attainment of double-digit sacks for the fourth time in his career ties the team record set by the late Reggie White and later notched by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.

Since defensive coordinator Dom Capers made a bold move at midseason of lining up the natural outside pass rusher at inside linebacker in some packages, Matthews has produced 7 1/2 sacks and 40 tackles in the last seven games. His 67 tackles are his third-highest total as a pro, just two behind his second-best output going into Sunday's finale.

"I think that playing inside and outside linebacker has allowed my abilities to be showcased a little bit more," Matthews said. "It's required for me to not only play from a stack 'backer but to also be matched up against some of the best running backs and tight ends in the league."

--Rodgers, who gave the offensive linemen and also the backup quarterbacks big-screen TVs, wasn't the only Packer to mimic Santa Claus by being in a very giving mood this holiday season.

Turns out Lacy treated his mother and sister to a five-day cruise in Mexico. Their vacation started Monday.

"They're enjoying themselves," Lacy said.

Lacy, the team's second-round draft pick last year, made headlines this summer when he had a new house built for his parents in their native Louisiana.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - Losses by the Packers in their last 11 regular-season finales, going back to 2003.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't play Packers football that game. It was a rough start for us at the beginning, but that's in the past. ... We know this game isn't going to be nothing like last game." - Halfback Eddie Lacy, on Sunday's home rematch with the Detroit Lions after Green Bay lost to its NFC North rivals 19-7 on the road Sept. 21.


NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

2015 Pro Bowl selections from 2014 season:

Game will be played January 25, 2015 in Glendale, Ariz., site of the Super Bowl. Hall of Fame receivers Cris Carter and Michael Irvin will serve as captains and select teams from this list, drafting alternately until all players are taken. Here are players taken by team (number of players after team; number of Pro Bowls after name):


John Kuhn, Fullback, 2

Clay Matthews, Outside Linebacker, 5

Jordy Nelson, Wide Receiver, 1

Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, 4

Josh Sitton, Guard, 2

-- By Position:


--Quarterback: Tom Brady, Patriots; Andrew Luck, Colts; Peyton Manning, Broncos; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers; Tony Romo, Cowboys.

--Running back: Le'Veon Bell, Steelers; Jamaal Charles, Chiefs; Arian Foster, Texans; Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks; LeSean McCoy, Eagles; DeMarco Murray, Cowboys.

--Wide receiver: Antonio Brown, Steelers; Dez Bryant, Cowboys; A.J. Green, Bengals; T.Y. Hilton, Colts; Calvin Johnson, Lions; Julio Jones, Falcons; Jordy Nelson, Packers; Demaryius Thomas, Broncos.

--Tight end: Jimmy Graham, Saints; Rob Gronkowski, Patriots; Greg Olsen, Panthers; Julius Thomas, Broncos.

--Fullback: John Kuhn, Packers; Marcel Reece, Raiders.

--Tackles: Ryan Clady, Broncos; Jason Peters, Eagles; Tyron Smith, Cowboys; Joe Staley, 49ers; Joe Thomas, Browns; Trent Williams, Redskins.

--Guard: Jahri Evans, Saints; Mike Iupati, 49ers; Kyle Long, Bears; Zack Martin, Cowboys; Josh Sitton, Packers; Marshal Yanda, Ravens.

--Center: Travis Frederick, Cowboys; Jason Kelce, Eagles; Nick Mangold, Jets; Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers.


--Defensive end: Calais Campbell, Cardinals; Robert Quinn, Rams; Cameron Wake, Dolphins; DeMarcus Ware, Broncos; J.J. Watt, Texans; Mario Williams, Bills.

--Interior linemen: Marcell Dareus, Bills; Aaron Donald, Rams; Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers; Dontari Poe, Chiefs; Ndamukong Suh, Lions; Kyle Williams, Bills.

--Outside linebacker: Connor Barwin, Eagles; Elvis Dumervil, Ravens; Tamba Hali, Chiefs; Justin Houston, Chiefs; Clay Matthews, Packers; Von Miller, Broncos.

--Inside linebacker: Luke Kuechly, Panthers; C.J. Mosley, Ravens; Lawrence, Timmons, Steelers; Bobby Wagner, Seahawks.

--Cornerback: Vontae Davis, Colts; Brent Grimes, Dolphins; Joe Haden, Browns; Chris Harris, Broncos; Patrick Peterson, Cardinals; Darrelle Revis, Patriots; Richard Sherman, Seahawks; Aqib Talib, Broncos.

--Free safety: Tashaun Gipson, Browns; Glover Quin, Lions; Earl Thomas, Seahawks; Eric Weddle, Chargers.

--Strong safety: Kam Chancellor, Seahawks; T.J. Ward, Broncos.

Special Teams

--Punter: Kevin Huber, Bengals; Pat McAfee, Colts.

--Placekicker: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots; Adam Vinatieri, Colts.

--Return specialist: Devin Hester, Falcons; Darren Sproles, Eagles.

--Special teamer: Justin Bethel, Cardinals; Matthew Slater, Patriots.


--QB Aaron Rodgers practiced in limited fashion Wednesday for the second straight day and expects to be fine to play the big regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions on Sunday that will determine the NFC North champion. Green Bay has taken a cautious approach with Rodgers so far this week after he suffered a strained left calf early in the 20-3 win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. The injury didn't keep Rodgers from continuing to play. With the Packers off Thursday for Christmas and sticking to their typical schedule of not practicing Friday, Rodgers will have two straight days of being off the field before Green Bay holds a light practice Saturday morning.

--LB Clay Matthews remains on the injury report this week with a biceps injury that limited his participation in practice Wednesday. Matthews, who has a team-high 10 sacks, wasn't hindered by the injury last time out. He had a season-best 2.5 sacks in the victory at Tampa Bay on Sunday and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.

--OLB Mike Neal continues to be listed on the injury report because of some late-season soreness in his core area. He practiced in limited fashion Wednesday. Neal played through the discomfort Sunday at Tampa Bay, registering his first full sack in five games.

--CB Davon House has yet to be cleared by the medical staff to resume practicing. House, who had been a regular contributor in the defense's situational packages and also made four starts until he sustained what turned out to be a fractured scapula in his right shoulder, has missed the last two games. House is making progress in his recovery, but he would seem to be a long shot for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Lions.

GAME PLAN: In the wake of the Packers' offensively challenged 19-7 loss to the Lions at Detroit's Ford Field way back in Week 3, Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy didn't hide his dissatisfaction about the performance of halfback Eddie Lacy. "Eddie needs to play better," McCarthy said curtly. Lacy's sluggish start to the season after he was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year the previous season was epitomized by his gaining only 36 yards in 11 carries in that game against the Lions. Lacy eventually responded to his coach's challenge and hasn't gone below 40 rushing yards since that dubious outing. In fact, Lacy has been a difference-maker for the Packers the second half of the season, rushing for 561 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 5.6 yards per carry. Small wonder several players on Detroit's defense have made it clear this week that containing Lacy is the No. 1 priority in Sunday's rematch, more than trying to limit the damage inflicted by quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay's pass-first attack.

With the NFC North title up for grabs in the matchup between the 11-4 front-runners to end the regular season, the tone should be set early as to whether the Lions' top-ranked run defense can withstand Packers head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy's desire to get Lacy on track right away. Detroit is allowing all of 64 rushing yards on average this season. Just as obvious is Green Bay's defense sticking to a proactive approach against mistake-prone Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The triple threat of receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate and versatile Reggie Bush out of the backfield makes it paramount for the Packers to get heat on Stafford in the pocket and not allow him the throwing lanes to get the football out to his playmakers. While Stafford has been sacked 43 times, fourth highest in the NFL this season, Green Bay is riding a league-best active streak of 35 straight games with a sack and is tied for seventh this season with 39 sacks. The absence of a formidable rushing attack even with the capable duo of Joique Bell and Bush will enable Green Bay to keep the Lions one-dimensional on offense and wait for Stafford to oblige with a turnover or three, as he had in that early-season meeting with two interceptions and a fumble.


--Packers LBs Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry vs. Lions offensive line - Led by a season-best 2.5 from the red-hot Matthews, Green Bay racked up a season-high seven sacks at the expense of immobile Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown in the Packers' 17-point road win last weekend. The one-game suspension levied this week against veteran center Dominic Raiola, the heart and soul of Detroit's offensive line, opens all kinds of possibilities on how Green Bay can go about adding to the sack miseries of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Packers have sacked Stafford at least once in all eight of his previous starts against Green Bay. Longtime standout Peppers, who has been a free-agent boon for Green Bay this season, forced a fumble that became a turnover on one of the Packers' two sacks of Stafford in the Lions' Week 3 win. A favorable matchup for Peppers and possibly Matthews looms with personnel-ravaged Detroit compelled to go with 6-foot-9 undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas at right tackle. Sending Matthews up the middle against Raiola's replacement, third-round rookie Travis Swanson, could pay dividends as well.

--Packers receivers vs. Lions Ss Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo - The linchpins of Detroit's two-shell scheme that has notoriously given Aaron Rodgers fits probably hold the keys to whether the Lions can stymie the MVP-worthy quarterback a second time this season and put them in position to pull off the upset victory at Lambeau Field. Quin's league-high seven interceptions underscore his first Pro Bowl selection this season. Fellow veteran Ihedigbo has been as much of a playmaker in his first season with the Lions, intercepting four passes, forcing two fumbles and having a fumble recovery. Both safeties could be around the ball a lot and in position to augment their penchant for takeaways if Detroit can initiate a carbon copy of the Buffalo Bills' effective two-high look that resulted in two interceptions by safety Bacarri Rambo against a highly erratic Rodgers.

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