After more than two decades of dominance from the Packers at home against the Lions, the last two trips to Lambeau, and three of the last four, Detroit hopped the short flight back across Lake Michigan as victors. Now, two of those games heavily involved Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer, but the air of invincibility around the Packers on their home turf vanished. Detroit isn’t afraid of coming to Wisconsin and winning.
A flea flicker on the opening play of the game, a gorgeous 66-yard catch-and-run to Kenny Golladay personified that lack of fear. Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell executed a marvelous plan coming of the bye week, flipping the script on the fast-starting Packers en route to a 13-0 lead. Detroit carried a 22-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Aaron Rodgers and a depleted Packers team came back to beat the Lions 23-22 on a field goal from Mason Crosby as time expired.
Two questionable calls in the fourth quarter extended drives for the Packers, each on Trey Flowers for illegal hands to the face. But the Lions can only blame themselves for failing to score more than one touchdown on a night when they created big plays and turnovers on the road against a division rival. And even that one touchdown came on a play where one official signaled touchdown and another signaled Lions running back Kerryon Johnson came up short of the goal line.
When the Lions broke the curse back in 2015 off a missed Mason Crosby field goal, their win was the team’s first in Green Bay since 1991. There had been college graduates who had never lived to see the silver and blue leave the frozen tundra victorious. The notion of four straight Lions wins overall over the Packers, as Matt Patricia’s team brought to town Monday night, would have be mocked as utterly fanciful as recently as two years ago. Last year, Crosby missed four field goals in a game Green Bay could have won had their long-time kicker not picked that day to have the worst game of his career.
Consider Monday night a redemption, and perhaps a reconciliation with the football gods.
“We know they were going to be a tough challenge and things didn’t go our way, obviously, early,” Matt LaFleur said after the game. “But I think it speaks a lot to character in that locker room, our guys sticking together. We talk about never blinking, and they fought.”
After jumping out to that early 13-0 lead, one that included two field goals from inside the five, the Lions self-inflicted damage with penalties and miscues. A 12-man penalty spoiled a red zone stop and turned into a Jamaal Williams touchdown catch-and-run to cut the lead. On the next possession a false start turned a 3rd-and-8 into a 3rd-and-13, which ended in a Za’Darius Smith sack.
Rodgers led the team from inside their own 10 on the ensuing possession to get points before half, chewing up critical time and putting points on the board to cut the Lions lead. Williams busted a 45-yard run to get the Packers in position and a holding call set them back on what could have been the go-ahead drive. Instead, a Mason Crosby field goal cut the deficit to 13-10 at halftime with Green Bay getting the ball coming out in the third quarter.
Aaron Rodgers victimized the Lions for so many of his iconic wins of recent vintage. He completed a comeback in Week 14 on one leg, in a moment even Hollywood would call farfetched. He left the game trailing and limping, returning as the snow started to fall to lead a comeback over Ndamukong Suh and Detroit in Week 17 at Lambeau.
There was the Hail Mary in Detroit in 2015 and the soul ripping demolition of the Lions defense at Ford Field in Week 17 of 2016 to punch a playoff ticket and complete the Run The Table sequence.
Every Lions fan knew the Aaron Rodgers counterpunch was coming. They’d watched him squeeze the life out of their team so many times before. For most of his career against the Lions, Rodgers isn’t just dangerous. He is the danger.
But in the second half ... it was the Lions who knocked.
Once the Packers tied the game at 13, Detroit reeled off nine straight points plus an interception in the red zone to scuttle a Green Bay drive. Justin Coleman took the ball of the ricochet from rookie Darrius Shepherd, who had a forgettable night with that drop and a punt return fumble.
A nine-point lead in the fourth quarter without Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison who’d been knocked out on an ugly hit early in the third quarter, the game appeared to be slipping out of reach for the Packers. Every once in a while, a team has a Murphy’s Law game, where nothing goes their way. Drops, fumbles, sloppy penalties, and the ball bounces right into the hands of the opponent seemingly every time.
But with a little over nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the only law that mattered was Aaron’s.
Aided by a questionable hands-to-the-face penalty to extend the drive, Rodgers led the Packers on an eight play, 75-yard drive culminating in a ridiculous throw to Allen Lazard down the left sideline over the aforementioned Coleman, one of the best slot corners in the league this season. With hope fading and Green Bay receivers dropping like flies, Lazard embodied the cliche “next man up” mentality.
The former Iowa State star came up huge on the game-winning possession as well with three catches for 30 yards on the drive that set up Crosby’s field goal with just two seconds to go.
“In that fourth quarter, [Rodgers] was certainly calling to Allen,” LaFleur said.
“Those two guys made it come to life.”
According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Packers lead the league over the last decade in wins against trailing by 13 or more. Put another one on the board, though dubious call on third down negated a sack and all but assured a victory for Green Bay. Trey Flowers appeared to grab David Bakhtiari’s shoulder pad near his neck, but the officials called him for illegal hands to go face to set up the Packers with a first down and the Lions without timeouts.
Had the play counted, Crosby still faced a makable field goal, but the Lions would have had over 1:30 to attempt a field goal of their own to win it. Matt Prater had been the best player for the Lions, going 5/5 on field goals with a pair of 50-yarders. The penalty sealed Detroit’s fate.
The Lions tried to let the Packers scored to make it 27-22 and give the ball back to the Lions with a chance to win it, but Jamaal Williams wisely slid down short of the end zone and the Packers simple knelt the game away to set up the game-winner.
To be sure, this will feel like robbery for Lions and Packers fans alike. It’s even the language we use in this situation. Green Bay stole this game, even if it won’t be seen as strictly a result of the officiating to Cheeseheads. To win a game like this without two of your top receivers and a critical piece of your defense in Darnell Savage, the Packers proved they have playoff mettle would could have only guessed at coming into the game.
This was true adversity and Matt LaFleur’s team met the challenge with vigor. There was no panic, only adjustments as Mike Pettine amped up the pressure on Stafford and cut down on Detroit’s early success down the field. LaFleur stayed patient with the game plan despite turnovers and a constant deficit. And Rodgers showed once again why he’s the boogeyman for Lions fans. Monday night, he may not have been Ozymandias, king of kings, but the Lions and their fans will certainly look on his work and despair.
Nothing beside remains ... except a 5-1 Packers team sitting in the NFC North’s pole position.