Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers has Lions' number
Allen Park — They've beaten him up, but they haven't really beaten him.
At least not as far as Aaron Rodgers remembers.
Sunday, the Lions will try — and try again — to do both as Rodgers and the Packers return to Ford Field for a pivotal early-season game. In 10 previous meetings with Rodgers as the Packers starting quarterback, the Lions are 1-9. And that lone win came in December 2010 when Rodgers was knocked out of a game in Detroit with a concussion he suffered in the second quarter.
"Jokes aside, I don't remember the second half of that game," said Rodgers, who was clobbered by Amari Spievey and Landon Johnson on one play, sacked on the next and then benched in the following series. "So I don't look back with a lot of fond memories about that day."
Rodgers missed the next week — it was his second concussion in two months — before returning to lead his team to six consecutive wins and a Super Bowl title.
Since then, he has missed two other games against the Lions. He sat out the regular-season finale at Lambeau Field in 2011 to rest for the playoffs — Matt Flynn torched the Lions secondary in his place — then watched from the sideline last Thanksgiving as he recovered from a broken collarbone. The Lions routed the Packers, 40-10, snapping a nine-game losing streak in their traditional holiday game and setting the stage for their disastrous December collapse.
"I don't know if he would've made that big a difference that day because we were hitting on all cylinders," Lions safety Glover Quin said. "But I love Aaron Rodgers. I respect Aaron Rodgers. You look forward to playing against guys like that, especially this early in the season when you're still trying to hit your stride."
It's not just the Lions that Rodgers has carved up, of course. The 10-year pro and former league MVP is a combined 17-7 against the other NFC North teams — Bears and Vikings — and has torched Minnesota for 26 touchdowns (four interceptions) in his career.
'Arm talent' praised
But Rodgers has tormented the Lions in unique fashion. He won his first career road start in Detroit — a 48-25 rout in September 2008. And he ended that year — Green Bay's last without a playoff berth — by sealing the Lions winless season. It was a 71-yard bomb to Donald Driver in the fourth quarter that sealed Detroit's fate.
Even in his worst statistical outing against the Lions, on a snowy December night in 2012, Rodgers still carried the dagger, stumbling out of the pocket and racing 27 yards for the go-ahead score and the longest touchdown run of his career. Afterward, he fitted himself for that imaginary championship belt and leaped into the crowd to celebrate.
He doesn't run quite as much as he used to, but Rodgers still flings it like few others in the game.
"He's an unbelievable arm talent," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "It's really fun to watch."
Darius Slay watched it from the sideline as a rookie last October, playing only on special teams in the game at Lambeau. But as a full-time starter now, the second-year cornerback is watching plenty of Rodgers on film this week — and marveling at what he sees.
"He can throw a back-shoulder 40 yards down the field — there's not too many quarterbacks that can do that," Slay said.
Asked about Rodgers being the focal point of the high-powered Packers offense, Slay took it a step further, joking, "I really think he's the offensive coordinator for them. I think he calls his own plays."
Test for secondary
The Lions will count on their front four to disrupt his game Sunday, much as that group did for his backup — Flynn again — last fall. But Rodgers was sacked four times and hit eight or nine times by the blitzing Jets defense last week, and still managed to rally his team from a 21-3 deficit, throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns, including the highlight-reel 80-yard winner to Jordy Nelson.
So that injury-depleted Lions secondary is going to be tested, without a doubt.
"The thing about Aaron Rodgers is you have to be disciplined," Quin said. "He's gonna make some throws and you're gonna have to keep your composure. You can't let one throw get you down."
Last year, it was an 83-yarder to James Jones that broke Detroit's back in Green Bay. The year before it was a 22-yarder to Randall Cobb that sealed the Lions fate. In all, nine of the 19 touchdown passes Rodgers has tossed against Detroit — and five interceptions — have covered 20-plus yards. Four have gone for 40 or more.
"I've played pretty good in a lot of those games," Rodgers said Wednesday when asked to explain all that success. "I don't think there's a specific rhyme or reason."
As for a solution, there's always the bribery option, I suppose.
And come to think of it, Rodgers did spend his off day Tuesday shooting a commercial in Appleton, Wisconsin, for Ford Motor Co.
But he's been doing those regional ads for years, I'm told, closing one for F-Series trucks with the line, "Folks around here know a winner when they see one."
Around here, too, as Lions fans can sadly attest.