If the Ford Field air conditioner blew “drowsy shit,” as Davante Adams joked this week, it mostly impacted the defenses, as Adams, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense hung 31 points on one of the worst defenses in football as Green Bay beat the Lions 31-24. With the win, the Packers secured the NFC North title and moved into the top spot in the NFC following the Saints’ loss to the Eagles. While the playoff positioning offers an added bonus, there’s plenty to correct after a sloppy, uneven performance.
Mike Pettine’s defense got off to a bit of a sleepy start, letting Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense march down the field on an 11-play touchdown drive to start the game, much as it did in the first matchup. But Adams turned a back-shoulder fade into a 56-yard score, his eighth straight game with a touchdown, breaking the Packers record previously held by Don Hutson. Without cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Desmond Trufant, the Lions offered no answers for Adams who finished with seven catches for 115 yards.
But the Packers offense can beat defenses in myriad ways. Rodgers completed his first 10 passes for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns with a perfect passer rating, the second score coming on a laser to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a back shoulder score. If confidence vacillations affect MVS, the arrow points up for him after one of his most impressive performances as a Packer, something we’ve been able to say multiple times this seasons, finally building on the success his talent warrants. Valdes-Scantling found openings with so much attention paid (or attempted to be paid) to Adams, racking up 85 yards on six grabs.
For the first time since 2011, the Packers didn’t trail at halftime vs. the Lions, though Detroit tied it late in the half at 14. But Rodgers and Co. owned the start of the second half, possessing the ball for nearly 14 minutes in the third quarter, scoring and forcing the Lions to go three-and-out.
Another long touchdown drive gave the Packers a 28-14 cushion they wouldn’t relinquish, though defensive penalties and some coverage busts certainly tried.
Matt LaFleur’s request to play four quarters of defense will have to wait at least a week, as a couple second half three-and-outs will not qualify, nor does undisciplined penalties, poor angles, and slow recognition, particularly on screen plays. The game plan focused on attacking Kevin King and Stafford found open receivers to his side all afternoon, as well as run calls that forced him to make open-field tackles.
Luckily for the Packers, the offense offers its best defense, getting four total touchdowns from Rodgers, including his 30th career rushing touchdown, setting a new Packers record for ground scores by a quarterback.
With Matt Patricia a distant memory, the Lions refused to quit, playing harder than they have for much of the season. Buoyed by an avalanche of Packers defensive flags, Detroit drew within a touchdown on a Kerryon Johnson plunge. The only good news for Green Bay came on the clock, where the touchdown also cost the Lions over 5:30 in time on the clock, requiring 13 plays. This is how Pettine’s defense sets up opponents: in order to score, it’s going to take a long time with 10+ plays.
If Green Bay’s offense scores efficiently, as it has all season, even the few drives when the offense does make that work won’t be enough. Or at least that’s the theory. Some games it feels less like a philosophy and more like a pipe dream considering how soft this team plays in the middle of the field at times.
Luckily Adams’ energy never waned, gashing the Lions for a 29-yard catch-and-run with the chance to salt the game away and Stafford knocked out on the previous drive with a rib injury. Possessing the ball would be enough. Scoring is gravy. Adams put Mason Crosby in position to extend the lead to 10 with a 53-yard field goal. A false start made it more interesting, but Crosby nailed the 58-yarder, the longest of his career and a measure of revenge on the field where he posted his worst performance as a pro in a nightmare game back in 2018.
One a day where sloppy, uneven play defined the non-offensive group for the Packers, the Lions picked up a 71-yard kickoff return coming off the field goal to set up Chase Daniel to keep Detroit in it.
For a Super Bowl contender, this isn’t how LaFleur wants his team to look. Winning, beating a divisional rival, those are nice. Securing the division will always be the goal, but eliminating these sloppy mistakes, special teams miscues, and offensive lulls is a priority for a team who can’t afford those kinds of gaffes in big moments. This will be an improvement over last season’s day at Ford Field when Green Bay came out lifeless, needing a big second-half comeback and last-second field goal to win it, even with a first-round bye on the line.
The Packers came out with better urgency, but not with the requisite edge, lacking the sharp, crisp play they’ll need come playoff time. Getting a win with plenty to fix can be a coach’s dream. Bank the win, but maintain the urgency from the squad. There’s plenty to correct down the stretch for the Packers. Still, they’re NFC North champions, currently sit atop the NFC standings, and if they win out, will be the No. 1 seed and the only team to get a bye in the conference.
In a way, it’s the encapsulation of Rodgers’ MVP argument. The defense gave up yards, committed dumb penalties, and special teams once again bites them in the ass. Still, No. 12 makes the plays he has to, the plays his team requires, to get a win on the road against a divisional opponent. Without him, they’d have been lost. Flip quarterbacks, and the Lions win. But as they have for more than a decade in Green Bay, the Packers win specifically because they have Rodgers and their opponent doesn’t.
On a day when Patrick Mahomes threw three picks and Rodgers put the team on his back, perhaps the we’ll soon say “three-time MVP Aaron Rodgers.” After a sloppy performance by his squad though, there’s plenty to fix before we can say “two-time Super Bowl champion.”