Sunday was a frustrating day at the office for the Green Bay Packers, but Randall Cobb sent everyone home happy. Green Bay trailed the Detroit Lions from the beginning of the 4th quarter until Cobb made a spectacular catch in the endzone with just under two minutes remaining, as the Packers left Ford Field with a 24-20 victory.
Until Cobb's catch, the story of the day was Mason Crosby's missed field goals. The under-fire Packers kicker had struggled coming into Sunday, and had arguably his worst day of the season against the Lions. After Mike McCarthy opted to leave his offense on the field for a 4th down inside the 35-yard line, Crosby went on to miss his next two kicks, including one from inside 40 yards. Luckily, he did not miss any extra points, and did add a short make late in the game to give the Packers three insurance points.
The Packers defense started strong, forcing three-and-out on the Lions' first two drives. That second three-and-out was preceded by a punt by Tim Masthay that was downed at the 1-yard line by Jarrett Bush, and the ensuing stop put the Packers into excellent scoring position.
That was the drive in which McCarthy opted to leave Crosby on the sidelines in lieu of an attempt at a first down, which the offense failed to pick up. Depending on one's point of view, Crosby's problems later in the match justified McCarthy's decision, or McCarthy's decision shook Crosby's confidence and put the Packers in a bad spot.
Blessed with excellent field goal position after Green Bay's failed 4th down conversion, the Lions were able to get into scoring range without much of a problem, though that was due more to Calvin Johnson than just field position. Johnson came up with a massive 53-yard catch on the drive, in one of the many instances where he got the better of Tramon Williams on the night. Detroit drove further down the field, inside the 10-yard line, but Morgan Burnett came up with a big sack on 3rd down and goal to force the Lions into a field goal.
Aaron Rodgers answered on the next Packers possession, putting together what was arguably his best drive of the night. He made three brilliant throws on 3rd down during the drive to keep it alive, including an incredible improvisational play on 3rd down and 9 from the Green Bay 39-yard line, in which he evaded multiple defenders in the backfield before flipping the ball to Donald Driver. The touchdown came on an impeccably designed play, with the entire offense setting up for a screen pass while Jermichael Finley slipped into the middle of the field. He was completely uncovered on the play, and Rodgers found him for a 20-yard touchdown pass to put the Packers up, 7-3.
The rest of the half went much less smoothly for Green Bay. Detroit marched down the field for a touchdown on their following drive to reclaim the lead, though their was one slightly controversial play. Johnson converted on a 3rd down and 9 with a 21-yard reception during the drive, but didn't appear to maintain full control of the ball with two feet in bounds. McCarthy opted not to challenge the ruling on the field of a catch, allowing the drive to continue. Mikel Leshoure finished off the drive with a 10-yard run, followed by a 1-yard effort at the goal line, putting the Lions back in front.
A comedy of errors defined the remaining offensive possessions for both teams in the second quarter. Penalties derailed the Packers' next drive, but they took the ball back on an interception by Casey Hayward. Green Bay made absolutely nothing of their opportunity, as Rodgers gave the ball right back with a pick of his own. An excellent forced fumble by Dezman Moses on Stafford gave the Packers yet another opportunity to score before the end of the half, and they failed to make anything out of it yet again. Even though an ill-advised icing of the kicker by Jim Schwartz gifted Crosby a second attempt at a missed field goal, he did no better with his second effort, and the Lions went into halftime with a three-point lead.
Detroit carried the momentum into the locker room, and looked to be very much in control of the game in the opening minutes of the 3rd quarter. The Packers' offensive line gave up two sacks on Green Bay's first drive of the second half, with the second resulting in a fumble that was recovered by Jeff Saturday.
The Lions drove into Packers territory on their next drive, as things looked like they were beginning to get out of hand for Green Bay, but M.D. Jennings came up with the biggest play of his career to date, completely flipping the script on the game. On 3rd and 10, Stafford hurled an ill-advised pass towards Tony Scheffler and found Jennings instead. The pick itself was already spectacular, but it was only the beginning of the play for Jennings, who pulled off an incredible, marauding 71-yard return for a touchdown. As soon as the Packers appeared to be on the ropes, they were ahead 14-10.
Unfortunately for the Packers, Detroit answered instantly with a great touchdown drive to go back in front. Their 10 play, 83-yard drive was capped off by Johnson, who hauled in a pass from Stafford that probably never should have found his hands. Morgan Burnett was in a brilliant position to make an interception, but let the ball go right by him and into the hands of the Lions' top receiver for the score.
The Packers' defense stepped up from that point forward, but their offense was unable to fire them back into the game until the very end. Crosby's second miss of the game, as Green Bay trailed 17-14 with just under nine minutes to go, felt like a massive blow at the time. Jason Hanson converted a field goal on the Lions' following drive, expanding their lead to six points. Sean Richardson was forced into his first defensive snaps on that drive and looked very much like an undrafted rookie, whiffing on long passes to Ryan Broyles and Titus Young.
Rodgers took over at his own 18-yard line, with just over four minutes to play. Even though the Packers had plenty of time and two timeouts, there was an obvious sense of urgency about the drive, exemplified by the final play. James Starks -- whose 3.0 yards per carry day was down more to his blocking than any fault of his -- kicked off the drive with an 11-yard run. That was followed up by a massive 40-yard reception by Finley, who showed off his fantastic athleticism with a big gain after the catch.
Those two plays set up the 22-yard game-winning touchdown to Cobb, who did brilliantly to adjust to the football and find it while falling down, between two defenders. The touchdown pass came on a surprisingly aggressive 3rd and 1 play with two minutes remaining in the game. If the Packers had run a more conservative play to simply pick up the first down, they would have had plenty of time to score, but had a play dialed up to take advantage of a shaky and banged-up Lions secondary.
Detroit's next drive went nowhere, and Crosby added three points to Green Bay's lead after a Lions turnover on downs. Their desperation attempt to create a late touchdown went nowhere, as Jerron McMillian jumped on a failed lateral attempt by Johnson to seal Green Bay's win and take them to 7-3 on the season.