Heat will be turned up for Packers-Lions showdown
Allen Park — Ford Field has never been louder than it was Monday night, Oct. 10, 2011.
Detroit Lions fans had been starving for a winner. The team had missed the postseason 11 consecutive years and with the Lions off to a 4-0 start and making a then-rare national television appearance, fans turned out in droves.
They were hanging from the rafters of the 11-year-old stadium, forcing the visiting Chicago Bears to feel their presence. The raucous crowd of 67,861 played a significant role in the game, forcing nine false starts, including a record six in the first half, as the Lions cruised to a 24-13 victory. Those in the stands, and in the press box, experienced ringing in their ears hours after the final whistle.
Given the stakes, don’t be surprised to see an equally, if not more, enthusiastic crowd Sunday night when the Lions host the Green Bay Packers in what is unequivocally the most important home game the Lions have played at their current residence.
The winner will win the division. The winner will host a playoff game. For Detroit, it would be the first time in 23 years for both. And if Washington wins earlier in the day, the season is over for the team that comes up short.
“This week is huge,” Lions tight end Eric Ebron said. “Our season rests on this. Everything we’ve done in the offseason, everything we’ve done up to this point, pretty much rests on 60 minutes, four quarters of this game. And it’s a Sunday night game, so not only do we think it’s important, but everybody does. It’s huge.”
This isn’t entirely unfamiliar territory for the Lions. To close the 2014 season, these same teams met at Lambeau Field with identical 11-4 records and the NFC North hanging in the balance. The Packers emerged victorious that night, 30-20.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, who has steered his team to five NFC North titles, including four straight from 2011-14, wishes this one was at Lambeau, too.
“I’d prefer the other venue for starters,” McCarthy said. “I think (Ford Field) is very well constructed and designed. Just the crowd noise alone and you know, the brick wall. I mean there’s just some acoustics in there that are very favorable to the home team. It’s a fast surface, too, so it’s a challenge.”
In addition to that 2014 finale, plenty of Detroit’s players and coaches have experienced these end-of-season clinching opportunities at other stops. As a rookie in Cincinnati, wide receiver Marvin Jones remembers a late-season trip to Pittsburgh, where both teams’ playoffs hopes hung in the balance.
“Everything was enhanced, people were flying around and it was like a playoff game,” Jones said. “This one will be no different.“
Jones offered advice to his teammates experiencing the intensity for the first time.
“Just live in it, live in that moment,” he said. “It’s going to be very hype, obviously. It’s probably going to be a sellout. It’s going to be different, in terms of what guys are probably used to seeing, in terms of the magnitude of the game, but just go and be you.”
In the week leading up to this game, the message has been clear: It’s now a one-game season. But where there is urgency, there is no panic.
That would not be in line with the mentality coach Jim Caldwell has cultivated, always preaching for his roster to never get too high or low.
These Lions are embracing the moment, genuinely excited for the opportunity to deliver for their long-suffering fans.
“I can’t wait,” wide receiver Golden Tate said. “I’m excited for this team, I’m excited for this city. We have a great opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done in a long time. We have a chance to do something special. And once you get into the playoffs, you can throw all the records out the window.”
Lions vs. Packers
When: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Ford Field
TV / radio: NBC / WJR 760
Records: Both teams 9-6
Line: Packers by 3
At stake: Winner is NFC North champion. Loser will make playoffs if Washington loses to the New York Giants.