Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels (76) runs into the end zone after recovering a fumble and returning it 43 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of Sunday night's game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
NFC playoff picture
1. Atlanta Falcons 11-2
At Lions (4-9)
2. San Francisco 49ers 9-3-1
At Patriots (9-3)
At Seahawks (8-5)
3. Green Bay Packers 9-4
At Bears (8-5)
At Vikings (7-6)
4. New York Giants 8-5
At Falcons (11-2)
At Ravens (9-4)
5. Seattle Seahawks 8-5
At Bills (5-8)
6. Chicago Bears 8-5
At Cardinals (4-9)
At Lions (4-9)
7. Washington Redskins 7-6
At Browns (5-8)
At Eagles (4-9)
8. Dallas Cowboys 7-6
At Redskins (7-6)
9. Minnesota Vikings 7-6
At Rams (6-6-1)
At Texans (11-1)
The Green Bay Packers, as they have for more than two decades now, found a way on their home turf to dispatch the Detroit Lions on Sunday night and took a big step toward winning back-to-back NFC North Division titles.
The Packers fought off a game Lions team for a 27-20 win at Lambeau Field that puts them alone atop the division with only three games remaining in the regular season.
The win puts the Packers (9-4) one game ahead the Chicago (8-5) after the Bears lost a huge game at division-rival Minnesota on Sunday afternoon. The Bears must win or tie their showdown against the Packers next week at Chicago’s Soldier Field to have any shot at the division title. If the Packers win, they’ll clinch the division title.
“I did some foreshadowing the last couple weeks,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “about this is how some games are going to go. It’s going to be ugly at times, but the main thing is to win. We’re 9-4, right now we’re first in the division by a game, putting ourselves in good position not only for the division but potentially maybe for a first-round bye. The division is the first goal, getting to 10 wins so we can start talking about the ‘P’ word. We can wrap things up next week. Tough opponent, tough place to play. A lot on the line.”
With three games to play, the Packers have the third-best record in the NFC, behind Atlanta (11-2) and the San Francisco (9-3-1), who would have first-round byes if the playoffs started today. Seattle (8-5) and the Bears are the Nos. 5 and 6 seeds, and the NFC East-leading New York Giants (8-5) would be seeded just behind the Packers at No. 4.
The win was the Packers’ 21st straight in the regular season against the Lions in Wisconsin.
The Lions (4-9), who have lost five straight games, were more effective moving the ball for much of this game but had two huge turnovers to the Packers’ one.
The game-turning play was a freakish fumble in the second quarter. The ball slipped out of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s hand as he threw and was turned into a 43-yard touchdown return by defensive lineman Mike Daniels to get the Packers back into the game at 14-10.
“Mike Daniels’ play was the momentum shift we needed,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Packers, though, put up points when they needed in the second half, and they did so with their running game.
With the score tied at 17 early in the fourth quarter, McCarthy called seven straight runs that covered all 59 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Halfback Alex Green had four carries for 37 yards on the drive, but the surprise was No. 3 halfback DuJuan Harris, who was signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster only two weeks ago.
Harris had the last two carries of the drive, a slick 6-yard run on which he slipped as he hit the line of scrimmage and popped back up to pick up the yardage, then a 13-yard burst up the middle on which he went untouched to the end zone. That put the Packers ahead 24-17 with 10:45 to play, a lead they made stand.
“That’s the way you play football here in December,” McCarthy said. “At that point in the game, the field started to tilt. That was a big series for us.”
Rodgers said: “Excited about (Harris). He brings a little something extra there. He’s been doing it in practice, you have to give him a lot of credit. I’ve seen a lot of guys over my eight years who were practice squad players, practiced really well, get an opportunity and make some plays. He’s one of them.”
The Packers put the game away with a scoring drive later in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers made the play of the drive when he converted a tough third-and-11 by scrambling to his right and while on the run throwing a dart to Randall Cobb for a 38-yard gain. That set up Mason Crosby’s 41-yard field goal that put the Packers ahead by two scores, 27-17, with 4:02 to play in the game.
The Packers got back into the game with the gimme touchown on Stafford’s fumble at a time when everything was going the Lions’ way.
Then on their first drive of the second half, the Packers took their first lead of the night. The drive received a major boost when Ndamukong Suh, the Lions’ lightning rod defensive tackle, was penalized for a late hit on Rodgers on a third-and-6 play that gave the Packers a first down at the Lions’ 44.
That set up another of the game’s big plays, Rodgers’ 27-yard scramble for a touchdown that was the longest run of his career and the Packers’ longest touchdown run of the season.
Rodgers, who finished with a passer rating of only 80.7 (14-for-24 passing for 173 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions), for a moment appeared about to be sacked when defensive ends Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson collapsed the pocket. However, Rodgers spun out just as Jackson was reaching for the sack, and when he scrambled to his right had a huge alley to the end zone.
“Impressive,” McCarthy said of Rodgers’ run. “I thought Aaron made a number of big plays with his feet. Managing the game. The touchdown run, for him to score from that distance speaks volumes about his athletic ability. He’s our guy, he’s our ace. It’s built around him, an dhe played well again tonight.”
The Lions took control of the game early with two long time-eating touchdown drives in which they ran the ball regularly and effectively against the Packers’ nickel defense. The two drives, one for 80 net yards, the other for 81 yards, included 15 runs for 85 yards, as offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was determined to stick with the run as long as Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was going to stay in passing-down personnel, which he did.
The first drive was a 12-play, 80-yarder on which the Lions ran nine times for 58 yards and scored on Stafford’s 4-yard bootleg on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
On the second, they went 79 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown, again all against the Packers’ nickel and dime personnel groupings. They rushed for 27 yards on six carries. It ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to tight end Tony Scheffler with 12:47 left in the second quarter that put the Lions ahead 14-0.
At that point, more than a quarter of the game was gone, and the Lions had two possessions, both touchdowns, to the Packers’ one. That Packers possession ended when Rodgers lost a fumble after he scrambled to his right and was tackled from behind by Jackson. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch recovered at the Lions’ 21.