The equation was simple for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night: win and earn a playoff berth. The execution of that equation was less simple, especially against a Dan Campbell-led Detroit Lions team that had nothing to play for but pride and ruining the day for one of their divisional rivals.
Indeed, it was a complicated game for the Packers, who continued their red zone woes in the first half. The Packers had plenty of chances to score before halftime, but finished the first 30 minutes with just three field goals. Those missed opportunities would prove to be devastating, as the defense would surrender two touchdowns in the second half, one off a big play and one after a long, sustained drive.
Big plays and sustained drives had plagued the Packers’ defense for much of the season, but they had managed to turn the football over with regularity over their four-game winning streak that put them on the precipice of the postseason. In this game, the Packers never really had an opportunity for a takeaway, registering just two pass breakups and one forced fumble on a sack by Devonte Wyatt, a play where the ball landed right back in quarterback Jared Goff’s lap. At the end of the game, the Lions had no trouble eating up clock in the fourth quarter, going on a 13-play, eight-minute drive to take the lead and then finishing off the final 3:27 of game clock after the Lions got a late interception on Aaron Rodgers.
As for Rodgers, questions will swirl around his future over the next few months as he and the Packers effectively face a March deadline to determine if he will return for 2023. His last pass of the 2022 season — and perhaps his career? — will be an interception by safety Kerby Joseph, who proved to be his kryptonite in both Lions games this season.
Though few and far between, there were a handful of moments of brilliance for the Packers in this game. Rodgers’ moonshot to Christian Watson for a massive 45-yard gain and an ensuing touchdown to Allen Lazard were among them. But with two giveaways, a defense that could not get a stop in the fourth quarter, and Rodgers displaying inconsistent accuracy late in the game, the Packers simply did not have enough to will their way into the postseason for a fourth straight season.
Instead, Green Bay fell to 8-9, giving Matt LaFleur his first losing season as the team’s head coach. Changes may well be afoot on the coaching staff, and the team’s roster will surely look different when the 2023 season begins. But most painful is the fact that the 2022 campaign ended at Lambeau Field on Sunday night rather than continuing for at least one more week in the Wild Card Playoffs.
The Lions won the coin toss and deferred, so the Packers started the game with the football. The first play was an end-around toss to Christian Watson for six yards and Aaron Jones carried for eight on the next play to move the chains. A quick pass to Watson on the next play went for 13 yards as the Packers quickly moved to midfield. The fourth play was a deep shot to Allen Lazard, but he was interfered with inside the 10-yard line as the Packers picked up nearly 50 yards with the early flag on the Lions. Green Bay’s red zone issues continued from there, however, as back-to-back runs for minimal yardage and an incomplete pass by Rodgers after a scramble led Mason Crosby on the field for a short field goal and a 3-0 Packers lead.
After a touchback from Crosby on a low line drive kickoff, the Packers’ defense drew a three-and-out on the Lions’ first drive. A quick run stop on Jamaal Williams and two incomplete passes from Jared Goff, one under pressure from Kenny Clark, yielded an immediate punt. The Packers were stopped short on a third-and-one attempt on their next series, then decided to keep the offense on the field for a fourth-and-inches. They ran a jet sweep to Allen Lazard, but linebacker Alex Anzalone burst through the line to blow up the play for a loss and a turnover on downs at the Packers’ own 31-yard line.
The Packers’ defense held Detroit to a field goal attempt after an 11-yard pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown, getting a big run stop from Quay Walker and a pass breakup from Darnell Savage on third down. Detroit tied it up with Michael Badgley’s 37-yarder as Green Bay’s defense held after being put in a tough spot.
After a heavy dose of the inside run game early on the next drive, the Packers struck with a big gain through the air as Aaron Rodgers hit Watson on a gain of 27 yards. After another run for Lazard went for one yard and Rodgers threw to Randall Cobb for a gain of four, Rodgers took a third-down sack, setting up a long 49-yard field goal attempt for Crosby. He snuck his kick over the crossbar, taking the lead back for Green Bay at 6-3 late in the first quarter.
Green Bay’s defense got a bit of help from a Matt LaFleur challenge on the next series, forcing a punt from Lions territory. LaFleur challenged a play that was ruled as a catch over the middle by St. Brown, but the review ruled that he did not establish possession before the ball hit the ground. That play would have been a third-down conversion, but instead the incomplete ruling yielded a punt.
Keisean Nixon’s return set the Packers up at the 45-yard line, and a big 20-yard catch by Robert Tonyan converted a third down and set up the Packers in field goal range. Hutchinson beat Yosh Nijman once again for a sack on another third down, however, forcing Crosby on to connect on another long field goal, this time from 48 yards.
The Lions faced a third-and-inches early on their next drive, and instead of running up the middle, they tried a flea-flicker, with Jared Goff connecting with Jameson Willliams on an apparent 66-yard touchdown. However, the Lions were called for holding as Matt Nelson, a 6th offensive lineman, practically tackled Jarran Reed on the inside. The Lions converted the 3rd-and-11, however, with a dump-off to running back Justin Jackson seeing him splitting to defenders for first down yardage. Goff then connected with Josh Reynolds for 16 yards, and though Devonte Wyatt came through with a sack on second down, D’Andre Swift picked up 11 yards on a draw on 3rd-and-6. Darnell Savage came up with a tackle for loss on Swift on 2nd-and-10, then the Packers finally got a stop to force a long Badgley field goal attempt. Badgley missed his 46-yarder wide left, keeping the Packers’ lead at 9-3.
Zach Tom came in for Nijman at right tackle on the next series, which started with Watson gaining 15 yards on a toss from Rodgers. Green Bay managed a conversion on a 4th-and-1 on an AJ Dillon run after Rodgers drew rookie James Houston offside on 4th-and-6, keeping the drive alive as the clock ran down to the two-minute warning. The first turnover of the game struck two plays later, however, as Aaron Jones coughed up the football on a reception up the left sideline, and the Lions recovered at their own 14, taking over with three timeouts and just under 90 seconds left.
Goff dinked and dunked the Lions up to midfield, then found Swift on a middle screen for 18 yards to reach the Packers’ 37-yard line with about 20 seconds left. Instead of using their final timeout, however, they ran a play and threw incomplete with five seconds remaining. The Lions managed a quick throw for St. Brown and took a timeout to set up a 47-yard field goal attempt for Badgley. Bizarrely, Rasul Douglas saw the Packers trying to take a timeout and swatted the football away from the center to try to ensure that the Lions could not get a practice kick off. He then took a penalty for retaliating after a Lions lineman pushed him in the back, making Badgley’s field goal a shorter one as he pulled the Lions back within three at the break.
Coming out of the half, the Packers defense again forced a three-and-out and the offense took over at the 25-yard line after the Lions punted. On the second play of the drive, Aaron Jones burst through the line for a 17-yard gain, then Lazard picked up 15 yards on a crossing route. But once again, the offense stalled out on the other side of midfield, as Crosby had to come on for a 53-yard field goal attempt. Like Crosby’s long connection a week earlier, this one hit the crossbar, but instead it bounced back into the end zone rather than rolling over for a good attempt, keeping the score 9-6.
The Lions pounced on an opportunity with good field position, as Goff heaved a bomb to Kalif Raymond, one-on-one with Rudy Ford. Raymond hauled the ball in just before the goal line and Jamaal Williams punched in a touchdown for his 16th of the year and a 13-9 Lions lead.
Aaron Rodgers and Christian Watson decided to go nuclear with the Packers facing their first deficit of the night. After a couple of first downs including one via a quarterback sneak on 3rd-and-inches, Rodgers heaved a moonshot to Watson, who hauled in a 45-yard gain despite being interfered with before the catch. That play is worthy of a close look:
THIS CATCH— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 9, 2023
Here we go!!
Two plays later, Rodgers fired a laser to Lazard in the back of the end zone, giving the Packers back the lead at 16-13.
Another three-and-out for the Lions, which finished with pressure on Goff by Quay Walker, yielded another possession for the Packers from the 26-yard line. After a holding penalty on the Packers, Rodgers threw an interception in the direction of Aaron Jones, but a clear hands to the face penalty on the Lions erased both the pick and the Packers’ penalty with an automatic first down. That got the Packers out of ugly field position, but a drop by Romeo Doubs and a short scramble by Rodgers on third down to evade the Lions’ pass rush set up a punt.
Detroit then got Williams going a bit after an early first down for St. Brown, as the former Packer picked up 19 yards on back-to-back carries before Swift took a swing pass for 9. Eventually facing a 4th-and-2 from the Packers’ 25, Goff hit D.J. Chark for a short gain of three yards instead of trying to tie the game with a field goal.
With the Lions threatening, Quay Walker earned his second ejection of the season. As Lions trainers came on the field to check on an injured D’Andre Swift, Walker pushed one of the Detroit support staff, earning an unsportsmanlike penalty and a disqualification. Two plays later, Jamaal Williams punched in his second touchdown of the game, taking the lead back for the Lions at 20-16.
That set up the Packers and Rodgers for some dramatics, as they took over with just under six minutes left. An early swing pass to Jones picked up 8 yards and he carried for no gain on second down, setting up a 3rd-and-2. Rodgers hit Watson for a short gain to convert, but a pair of incompletions gave the Packers another 3rd down, this time with ten yards to go.
That play was the turning point, as the Lions brought an all-out blitz. Rodgers tried to heave a bomb to Watson, but couldn’t get enough on it as safety Kerby Joseph intercepted the pass. It was his third pick of Rodgers this season, and put the Packers’ postseason dreams back on life support.
The Lions pounded the football with Jamaal Williams as they grasped the opportunity to end the Packers’ season. Facing 2nd-and-17 just before the two-minute warning, a hook-and-lateral from St. Brown to Swift set up a 3rd-and-3 at the break. With no timeouts, the Packers stopped Williams a yard short of the first down, and after calling timeout themselves, the Lions brought the offense back on the field to gain one yard. Instead of giving the ball to Williams, the Lions went with an empty backfield and Goff hit Chark for a first down, sitting in front of the Packers’ soft zone coverage. With that, Detroit was able to kneel out the clock and send the Packers home with a losing record — and without a playoff berth — for the first time since 2018.