'Locked-in' Aaron Rodgers overwhelms, Matthew Stafford injured as Lions fall short to Packers
Detroit — The Detroit Lions put up a tougher-than-expected fight against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, but ultimately didn't have enough answers for quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the 31-24 loss that sealed a second consecutive division title for the opposition.
Rodgers, a front-runner for his third MVP award, showed why with three touchdown passes and a scoring scramble in the victory. The win clinched the NFC North title for Green Bay (10-3), the seventh crown for Rodgers as the franchise's starter.
"We knew that this thing was going to be a dog fight and we were going up against one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it in this league," Lions coach Darrell Bevell said. "To be able to be in it at the end of the game, right there, with one possession to determine it, I was really proud of the guys and how they fought."
Tied at the half, the Lions were undone by a disastrous stretch coming out of the locker room.
Unlike the last time the two teams met, in Week 2, it wasn't a 75-yard run that did in the Lions, but a methodical, 14-play touchdown drive that started the unraveling.
After a third-down defensive holding call against cornerback Amani Oruwariye extended the drive, the Packers went on to overcome a pair of offensive holds, converting three more third downs. Rodgers capped the series by scrambling into the end zone from 6 yards out on third-and-goal.
Detroit's defense barely had time to catch its breath after the offense went three-and-out, allowing Green Bay to once again drive the length of the field.
Keeping it on the ground much of the series, Rodgers put the finishing touches on the 12-play possession with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Robert Tonyan, extending Green Bay's advantage to 28-14 early in the fourth quarter.
"We need to respond and do a good job of giving our defense time to rest and we didn’t do that," Bevell said. "We went three-and-out, put them back out there, and I think they had another long drive. Fortunately for us, we were able to get it settled there, but that was a big swing in the game."
Thanks in part to four defensive penalties committed by the Packers, the Lions were able to respond, cutting the Packers led to one score with under seven minutes remaining.
The Lions almost scored far quicker, but a replay review upheld the ruling on the field that Marvin Jones was out of bounds when attempting to get both feet down inside the sideline short of the end zone.
"When I caught the ball my feet were down, so when I got up and he said it was incomplete, yeah, it threw me for a loop," Jones said. "Especially when I saw it on the big screen. I mean, both of my feet were down when the ball was in my hand. You know, I don’t know if I can say too much without getting in trouble or something like that, but I definitely think it was a catch."
It took six more snaps and nearly three minutes of game time before Kerryon Johnson plunged across the goal line from 3 yards out, making it 28-21.
More importantly, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was shaken up on the play before Johnson's touchdown run. Suffering a rib injury while scrambling for a first down, he wasn't able to return to the game.
The Packers pushed their lead back to 10 with a 57-yard field goal by Mason Crosby, but Jamal Agnew kept the Lions' hopes afloat with a 71-yard return of the ensuing kickoff.
Chase Daniel, taking over for Stafford, quickly got the Lions into the red zone with a 23-yard pass to Jones. But a holding call against right tackle Matt Nelson wiped out a touchdown run by Daniel, leaving the Lions to settle for a 32-yard Matt Prater field goal.
"Listen, as a backup quarterback, right, you’re supposed to be ready at any given moment," Daniel said. "It was a pretty crucial part of the game, so for me, I was just trying to stay warm on the sideline, get stretched, I mean we were waiting there for 57 minutes or whatever it was in the game, but like I said, life of a backup."
With under two minutes remaining, the Lions attempted an onside kick, but failed to recover before it skipped out of bounds. Safety Miles Killebrew made a lunging effort to secure the bounding ball, but a replay review again confirmed the ruling on the field.
"We gave ourselves a chance and that’s what we were looking for," Bevell said.
Needing a single first down to seal the victory, Rodgers rolled out and found Tonyan for the conversion to end it.
While the Packers were seemingly in control throughout the second half, the teams went toe-to-toe through two quarters.
The Lions opened the scoring by taking the opening kickoff and moving 75 yards in 11 plays. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu had two catches for 37 yards on the drive, including a 21-yard, third-down reception to keep the chains moving.
With second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, tight end T.J. Hockenson took an inside shovel pass in for the score, putting the Lions up 7-0.
The Packers needed just three plays to respond. Rodgers found star receiver Davante Adams on a short throw near the right sideline where the receiver immediately broke free of the grasp of Oruwariye before juking past deep safety Duron Harmon for the 56-yard touchdown, knotting the game at seven.
Adams finished with seven catches for 115 yards and the touchdown. It marked the sixth time he topped the century mark on the season.
Following a Lions punt, the Packers took their first lead with a 12-play drive. Completing his eighth consecutive pass to start his afternoon, Rodgers found Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the second play of the second quarter — again with Oruwariye in coverage — for the 13-yard scoring strike.
"I talked about last year, but I think (coach) Matt (LaFleur) does a really nice job with some openers and we know about them early and what he’s thinking about calling, and it allows us to think about, visualize those plays the night before, the morning of, in the locker room before the game," Rodgers said. "So you’ve ran through those plays many times in your head already, or at least I have, and I assume other guys do the same type of routine. But I think it really helps us kind of get locked in from the start."
The two teams traded possessions before the Lions managed to tie the game before the break. Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed screen passes to each of his three running backs for 50 total yards, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run by D'Andre Swift with a 1:27 remaining in the quarter.
The Lions actually got the ball back with 35 seconds remaining and all three timeouts, but were driven out of the outer edge of field-goal range when Stafford was sacked.
With the loss, the Lions fall to 5-8 on the season. They'll head out on the road for the final time next week when they travel to Tennessee to play the Titans.