Detroit — Through three quarters, the football universe was on its head. In a game between the team trying to lock up the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the team with nothing to play for, it was the latter in the driver's seat for much of the afternoon.
But sense and logic prevailed as the Green Bay Packers rallied past the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, 23-20.
"That was a tough game and I don’t even really know what to say right now," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "That’s life in the National Football League, but really pleased with our guys with that mentality of never quitting, being resilient. You’ve got to give Detroit a ton of credit. We knew they were going to battle us."
Mason Crosby's 33-yard field goal as time expired proved to be the difference as the Packers scored 13 points in the final quarter to complete a 14-point comeback.
The loss was Detroit's ninth straight and the Lions finish the season 3-12-1. The Packers are 13-3 and are guaranteed a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lions will have the second or third selection in the NFL Draft, pending the outcome of Sunday's Washington vs. Dallas game, which started at 4:25 p.m.
The Lions opened the scoring with the help of a trick play. Working into the red zone on the heels of a series of chunk gains, the Lions dialed up a play they'd worked on in training camp, handing the ball off to Danny Amendola on an end around, only to see the receiver turn around and fire a throw back across the field to quarterback David Blough.
Uncovered after leaking out of the backfield, Blough glided into the end zone untouched to put Detroit up, 7-0.
"You know, it was just kind of a fun play we had in, we’ve had in a couple different times this year, and just got it off the card and awesome timing for the call," Blough said. "Danny sold it great. That’s how you hope it comes out."
The score stayed that way nearly 20 minutes of game time as the teams punted the next five possessions before the Lions found their way into the end zone a second time.
Blough kick-started the scoring drive with a 42-yard completion to Kenny Golladay. Setting the Packers up with play-action out of a run formation, Golladay got a step on the coverage and came down with the big gain on the deep ball.
The star receiver also suffered a concussion on the play.
Fighting through a holding call on the ensuing play, the Lions found themselves with a first-and-goal from the 7-yard line, but Blough's third-down scramble was stopped just short of the goal line.
Instead of settling for the short field goal, the Lions went for it. Running behind an emergency fullback in linebacker Jason Cabinda, running back Kerryon Johnson plowed in from a yard out to extend Detroit's advantage to 14 with 3:17 left in the half.
The Packers managed to snap the shutout with a 32-yard Crosby field goal. A 33-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams put Green Bay in scoring position, but Rodgers misfired long on a pass to running back Aaron Jones in the end zone to end the threat.
Surprisingly, the Lions were able to answer, despite having only 20 seconds to do so. Rookie running back Ty Johnson broke through the Packers defense for a 40-yard gain and added another 11-yard carry to put Matt Prater in position to kick a 42-yard as time expired in the half.
Rodgers struggled throughout the opening half, missing multiple throws, while seeing a couple well-placed balls put on the ground by his receivers in the rare spots Detroit's defense provided him openings. He went into the locker room having completed 6 of 18 throws for 90 yards.
The Packers continued to struggle to the start half with Crosby sending a 51-yard field goal wide left. But after forcing the Lions to quickly punt the ball back, Rodgers came alive.
Completing his first seven passes during the possession, Rodgers connected with Adams, running to the back corner of the end zone, for a 20-yard touchdown, slicing the Lions lead to seven, 17-10.
"We felt like they were really in-and-outing him, and if he (faked) the post (route) and sold that, he’d have a good chance to getting over the top to get to the back pylon," Rodgers said. "Great route by him."
Another three-and-out for the Lions offense led to a 40-yard field Crosby early in the fourth quarter, whittling the lead to four.
The Lions ended their second-half scoring drought and slowed the bleeding thanks to a 30-yard pass interference call against the Packers. That set up Prater for a 56-yard field goal with a little more than 11 minutes remaining.
Detroit's defense also responded, forcing the Packers to quickly go three-and-out.
With a chance to expand the lead back to double-digits, the Lions drove back into Green Bay territory before Blough was sacked on first down and subsequently threw a bad interception into double coverage.
"It was a good play, a good call by the defense," Blough said. "They had me dialed up and just got me caught on the wrong side of the field. Then I made a bad play worse by trying to force it in there. It was just a bad, bonehead play on my part. It can’t happen, especially in a critical part of the game and it really hurt us there at the end.”
With the short field, the Packers needed seven plays to knot the score. On third-and-10, Rodgers found 6-foot-5 Allen Lazard across the middle for the tying score.
"He ran a nice route, got on top, and (I) just kind of held it as long as I could and tried to put a little air on it," Rodgers said.
The Lions proved unable to respond, not once, but twice, after Rodgers was intercepted on a deep pass by rookie Amani Oruwariye.
Taking the ball back with 1:20 remaining, the Packers moved quickly. Rodgers got things started by expertly bating Lions safety Tavon Wilson into an unnecessary roughness by sliding late on a scramble.
"I thought it was a clean hit," Wilson said. "That’s just me being honest. Obviously, they’re going to call it how they see it. Things happen fast, so they called it on the field.
Three plays later, Rodgers found Jones on a 31-yard screen pass to Jones set up Crosby to knock down the winning field goal as time expired.
"I think today was another great example of how hard this team works, how hard they fight," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I think we probably played a ton of guys here today, rolled a lot of bodies through and a lot of guys that hadn’t even played an NFL game before. (They) went out and played as hard as they could to give ourselves a chance."
Blough completed 12-of-29 passes for 122 yards and one interception and Golladay had three catches for 72 yards.
Rodgers was 27-of-55 for 323 yards, with two TD and one interception and Jones rushed 25 times for 100 yards. Adams led the Green Bay receivers with seven catches for 93 yards.