Sunday night marked Aaron Rodgers’ ninth time starting the final game of the regular season. In his previous eight, the superstar quarterback completed 70% of his passes and averaged 280 passing yards and two touchdowns.
With an NFC North title on the line, Rodgers exceeded even his lofty expectations. Completing 27-of-39 passes for 300 yards, Rodgers tossed his 37th, 38th, 39th and 40th passing touchdowns of the season. Oh — and Sunday night marked the quarterback’s seventh straight game without an interception.
Here’s how the Packers took home the NFC North title.
A quiet first quarter with an NFC North championship on the line
With a division title on the line, Sunday night’s regular season finale started softly. Detroit cornerback Darius Slay, who was questionable to play throughout the week, shadowed the Packers’ Jordy Nelson as the game began. Nelson was held to only one catch in the first quarter.
Cornerback Damarious Randall had a miscommunication with safety Kentrell Brice which left Golden Tate wide open on the sidelines. Stafford would overthrow Tate, and the Packers escaped without any damage.
On a 3rd-and-15 in Green Bay’s territory, quarterback Matthew Stafford completed a beautiful back-shoulder throw to receiver Golden Tate for a first down while taking a massive body shot from linebacker Julius Peppers.
Detroit ended the first quarter facing a fourth down and sent their kicker Matt Prater onto the field.
The second quarter belonged to Aaron Ripkowski and Zach Zenner
Matt Prater — who had made 89% of his field goals this season — missed a 39-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter after it wobbled off to the left of the post.
Momentum swung firmly back to the Packers, and fullback Aaron Ripkowski was the beneficiary. Ripping off run after run, the second-year pro was an unlikely source of offense with almost 50 yards rushing through one quarter. Rodgers found him for a 7 yard touchdown to push Green Bay out to a 7-0 lead.
Detroit responded by evening the score on an 11 play, 80 yard drive capped off by running back Zach Zenner’s one-yard touchdown run. The Packers had the Lions right where they wanted them on a 3rd-and-15, but Stafford connected with T.J. Jones for 35 yards to extend the drive.
A two-minute drive by the Lions almost ended in disaster when linebacker Clay Matthews had an easy interception fall through his hands. Detroit, with new life, stormed down the field and took a 14-7 lead on a Golden Tate touchdown reception.
With less than half a minute remaining, Rodgers found Geronimo Allison for 39 yards. After a quick five yard toss to Jared Cook, the Packers were in field goal range. Mason Crosby lined up a 53-yard field goal that beautifully split the uprights as the half ended to cut Detroit’s lead to 14-10.
Three quick halftime observations
- Missing in action during the first half for Green Bay was wide receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery. Montgomery carried the ball once for four yards and was unable to haul in a screen pass from Rodgers on the second series of the game.
- The Lions methodically sliced through the Packers’ defense in the first half. Detroit had sixteen first downs through the first two quarters.
- Aaron Rodgers finished the first half with 223 straight passes without an INT, the longest such streak of his career.
The Packers take the lead in the third quarter
Green Bay retook the lead at the open of the second half. Davante Adams nabbed a 3-yard touchdown grab to finish a 75 yard drive. The good — Green Bay took a 17-14 lead — was swiftly met with the bad after the referees flagged Adams for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for dunking the ball over the crossbar.
Unlike the second quarter, the Packers defense held following the offensive score. Linebacker Nick Perry made a play on the following Lions drive, sacking Stafford on a 3rd-and-5 near midfield.
Cornerback Quinten Rollins, covering the Lions’ Marvin Jones on a long sideline throw, tripped and fell. What initially seemed like a routine play turned disastrous, as Rollins remained motionless on the turf. He was carted off the field with an apparent neck injury and taken to a nearby hospital by ambulance.
With Rollins, Makinton Dorleant, and Damarious Randall nursing injuries, only LaDarius Gunter and Josh Hawkins remained as healthy cornerbacks.
Rodgers seals the division championship in the fourth quarter
In Detroit’s previous six home games — all victories — they trailed in the fourth quarter. Green Bay began the fourth quarter up, 17-14. With an NFL record eight fourth-quarter comeback victories this season, the Lions had the Packers exactly where they wanted them.
The Packers opened the fourth quarter with the ball and methodically moved down the field. An errant snap by center Corey Linsley went straight into Rodgers’ gut, but the quarterback recovered, averted danger, and found Davante Adams for a seven yard gain.
Inside the red zone, the Packers faced a third down. Rodgers eluded the Detroit rush for 8.78 seconds, extending the play with his legs. He finally found Geronimo Allison in the back corner of the endzone to punctuate the 81-yard, 10 play drive. The touchdown extended the Packers’ lead to 23-14 with 10:02 remaining after Crosby sent the extra point wide right.
Matt Prater nailed a 54-yard field goal on the ensuing Detroit drive to narrow the Packers’ lead to 23-17. With Crosby’s missed extra point looming large, Rodgers stepped back onto the field with eight minutes separating Green Bay from an NFC North title.
Rodgers faced 3rd-and-1 on his own 34, and from the shotgun faked a handoff to Montgomery and ran a bootleg for thirteen yards and a first down. Rodgers continued to keep Stafford and his fourth quarter heroics on the sideline as time slipped away.
Finally, Detroit’s hopes for their first division title since 1993 were dashed when Rodgers found Davante Adams for his fourth touchdown pass of the game. A two-point conversion to Adams erased the folly of the missed extra point and put Green Bay up 31-17.
With 18 seconds left, Matthew Stafford lofted a Hail Mary pass and Anquan Boldin came down with it for a late touchdown to pull within 31-24. Thankfully, Richard Rodgers recovered the onside kick and the Packers kneeled out the clock
- Aaron Rodgers. The star quarterback moved to 13-3 in his career against the Detroit Lions (including 2010’s loss at Ford Field when a concussion forced Rodgers to leave the game early) and punctuated an MVP season with his 37th, 38th, 39th, and 40th touchdown passes of the year.
- Geronimo Allison. It was quite the breakout game for the rookie, who snagged four catches for 91 yards. His touchdown grab in the fourth quarter will find its way into Rodgers’ career highlight reel.
- Aaron Ripkowski. We may never know why Ty Montgomery only carried the ball once in the first half. Ripkowski’s excellent night — nine carries for 61 yards and a seven yard touchdown catch — helps ease the heartbreak for fans still clinging to their #30 jerseys.