Detroit – The Detroit Lions are headed to the playoffs, but the team’s lengthy division title drought continues after falling to the Packers Sunday night, 31-24.
The Lions (9-7) were able to back into the postseason thanks to the New York Giants, who beat Washington earlier in the day, 19-10. The Lions will travel to Seattle to play the Seahawks in the wild-card round next Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
Detroit put up a good fight in the battle for the NFC North, and the right to host the first playoff game in Ford Field’s history, but were overwhelmed by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ arm and feet in the loss.
“He played excellent. He got outside and we just couldn’t get him down there a couple times,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “There’s no question about that. We just couldn’t answer enough times.”
Rodgers finished the day 27-for-39 for 300 yards and four touchdowns and regularly extended plays by escaping the pocket. He also ran seven times for 47 yards before kneeling twice at the end of the game.
The action got off to a slow start as the teams traded punts throughout the first quarter and both quarterbacks struggled with accuracy. Matthew Stafford overthrew Golden Tate running open deep down the sideline while Rodgers fired behind his intended target on a third down.
“Yeah, man, that one was close,” Stafford said. “It was close to being really good.”
The Lions worked deep into Packers territory on their third possession, but the drive stalled after Tate was flagged for offensive pass interference for shoving the defensive back in coverage to create space in the red zone. The Lions were ultimately forced to settle for a 39-yard Matt Prater field goal attempt, but the kicker sent it wide left, his second consecutive miss following 19 straight makes.
The Packers took advantage of the missed field goal, and three missed tackles, driving 71 yards in eight plays to open up the scoring. Rodgers found Aaron Ripkowski on a check down and the fullback rumbled across the goal line for a seven-yard touchdown. It was the first scoring reception of his career.
Ripkowski also finished Green Bay’s leading rusher. He came into the game with 89 rushing yards through 15 games, but had 61 on nine carries against Detroit.
Detroit counter-punched with a touchdown drive of its own. Stafford dropped a perfectly placed pass to TJ Jones between the cornerback and safety for 39 yards to convert a third-and-15 early in the series, and running back Zach Zenner chipped in a 16-yard reception and 13-yard run before ramming it across the goal line from a yard out to knot the score at 7-7.
Zenner was highly productive in the first half, racking up 98 yards from scrimmage and finished the game with 69 yards rushing and 41 receiving.
“He’s a workhorse,” Caldwell said. “He can get his shoulders squared, he finds seams, he can catch the ball for us. He does a lot of things well.”
After a penalty-plagued Packers’ possession and poor punt, the Lions took their first lead. Stafford survived a near-interception early in the series, putting one directly into the chest of linebacker Clay Matthews, but the linebacker couldn’t hold on for the pick. The Lions capitalized on the second chance, driving 69 yards. Zenner touched the ball on four consecutive snaps, gaining 29 yards, and Stafford found Tate on a three-yard slant to put the Lions up, 14-7, with 23 seconds left in the half.
Instead of taking a knee and running out the clock, the Packers went to work. Rodgers found rookie receiver Geronimo Allison running free deep for a 39-yard gain, setting up a 53-yard field goal as time expired, making it 14-10 at the half.
The Packers carried the momentum into the third quarter, taking the kickoff and driving 75 yards to regain the lead. Receiver Jordy Nelson, who was held to one catch through two quarters, came to life on the drive, catching three passes for 42 yards before Rodgers connected with Devante Adams from three yards out for the receiver’s 11th touchdown this season.
Rodgers’ ability to escape the pocket plagued the Lions all game, and it also proved to be devastating down the stretch. After leading the Packers back into the red zone, Rodgers escaped pressure twice, buying more than eight seconds before finding with Allison in the back end zone to extend the lead to nine, 23-14, following a missed extra point.
“I needed to kind of deke the defensive tackle there into thinking I was stopping,” Rodgers said. “After that I was able to get outside and then I just saw Geronimo and tried to put it in a place where he can make a good catch. I didn’t see the catch. I was on my back. I just looked at our sideline and I could tell he caught it, so it must’ve been a good catch.”
Prater kept the Lions breathing with a 54-yard field goal with 7:42 remaining, only to see Rodgers seal the deal with a nearly five-minute drive capped by his fourth touchdown pass, a nine-yard fade to Adams over cornerback Nevin Lawson. Rodgers found Adams again on the two-point conversion to put the Packers, 31-17.
The Lions had one last gasp, but Stafford was intercepted by safety Micah Hyde on a pass intended for Tate in the end zone with 1:30 remaining. The Lions weren’t pleased with how much contact Hyde had with Tate prior to making the pick.
“Just one of those things, just officiating,” Caldwell said. “I voiced my opinion and that was it.”
Stafford was able to pad his final stat line with a touchdown in the final seconds, finding Anquan Boldin on a 35-yard jump ball, but Detroit failed to recover the ensuing onside kick.
The victory was the Packers' sixth in a row, giving the team its fifth division title in six years. They will host the Giants next week at Lambeau Field.