Green Bay, Wis. – Whatever had been ailing Aaron Rodgers, the Detroit Lions defense proved to be the elixir. The Green Bay Packers quarterback moved his offense up and down the field with surgical precision, tossing four first-half touchdowns in 34-27 victory at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
The Lions staged a comeback after falling behind 31-3, capped by a 35-yard TD pass from Matthew Stafford to Marvin Jones with 3:34 remaining, but Green Bay was able to run out the clock to end the game.
Rodgers’ struggles had drawn national attention in recent weeks, but he looked far more like the player who won the MVP in 2014 than the one who has struggled with accuracy and efficiency the past year.
“Rodgers’ was hot, completed a lot of big passes on us,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He really gave us some problems in that area. We just couldn’t slow him down.”
The Packers wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, taking the opening kick and driving 75 yards with eight plays. Rodgers completed four of his five throws for 75 yards on the drive, eluding pressure to connect with Randall Cobb on a 33-yard gain before capping the series with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Devante Adams running a slant with cornerback Quandre Diggs in coverage.
After a Lions field goal, Rodgers continued his assault on the opposing secondary. Taking advantage of a coverage mismatch, the quarterback waited for Jordy Nelson to run past linebacker Thurston Armbrister down the seam before delivering a strike that resulted in a 49-yard pickup. Three plays later, Rodgers went back to Nelson for an eight-yard touchdown to give the Packers an early 14-3 advantage.
The Lions proved unable to keep pace, going three-and-out on the ensuing possession, while Rodgers kept his foot on the gas.
The Packers needed just two plays to get back into the end zone. The scoring drive, if you can call it that, was aided by a 66-yard pass interference penalty against Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson, the longest such call in the NFL the past 15 years. That set up a two-yard scoring toss to tight end Richard Rodgers.
With Detroit’s defense unable to get a stop in the early going, the offense only compounded the problems with a turnover. Looking for tight end Eric Ebron in a soft spot of the Packers’ zone defense, Stafford’s pass was ripped from his intended target’s arms by cornerback Damarious Randall.
Ruled an interception because Ebron never establish control, the turnover was returned 44 yards and shortly after turned into three more Packers points, a 36-yard field goal for Mason Crosby.
“That’s a throw I make 10 out of 10 times,” Stafford said. “Eric probably didn’t feel (Randall). He did a great job coming from the side and the guy made a really nice play.”
Rodgers put the finishing touches on his masterful first half, leading a six-play, 67-yard touchdown drive following a missed field-goal attempt by Lions kicker Matt Prater.
The scoring strike, a perfectly-placed fade to Nelson down the right sideline, put the Packers up 31-3 with 3:53 remaining in the half.
Caldwell shouldered the blame for the sluggish performance.
“It’s all on coaching if you ask me,” Caldwell said. “If you have been around me long enough, you know we don’t ever back away from that. Every single bit of it, we’re responsible.”
Staked out to a 28-point advantage, all the Packers needed to do was hold on. It proved to be more difficult than expected, largely thanks to the efforts of Jones.
He finished the day with a career-best 205 receiving yards, kick-starting the performance by breaking a tackle and racing down the sideline for a 73-yard touchdown late in second quarter, cutting the halftime deficit to three scores.
“We need a spark and the throw from Matt was ideal,” Jones said. “I adjusted and he threw away cornerback. He made a good throw and I just finished it off.”
Jones had another big gain, a 23-yarder on the first play of the second half, sparking a 12-play, 73-yard touchdown drive. The Lions nearly stalled in the red zone before Stafford connected with Anquan Boldin on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line.
The two teams traded field goals, before Jones made it a one-score game, 34-27, getting beyond the defense when Randall tripped in coverage. All alone in the end zone, Jones easily reeled in the 35-yard score from Stafford with 3:34 remaining.
Needing a stop, the Lions defense stuffed Packers bruising running back Eddie Lacy on first and second down, before Rodgers beat the defense again, this time with his feet.
With the coverage taking away all his receiving options, Rodgers scrambled to his right, gaining 11 yards to convert the third-and-8.
“He just scrambled out of the pocket, broke contain and pick up the first down,” safety Glover Quin said. “It was the key play of the game.”
With one more first down, Rodgers was able to take three knees to seal the victory.