Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels (76) runs to the end zone after recovering a fumble against the Detroit Lions during the second quarter of Sunday night's game at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
Mike Daniels wasn’t able to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine because of undergoing shoulder surgery a few months prior, but he always had confidence in his running ability.
As a rookie defensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers, however, he just never got to show it.
The former high school running back showed every bit of those old backfield traits during his 43-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in the second quarter with his team trailing by two scores that proved to be a catalyst in the Packers’ 27-20 win.
With no one in the backfield, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford whiffed the throw that led to the fumble, allowing Daniels to scoop it up, break a would-be tackle attempt from Gosder Cherilus and run it into the end zone.
“In my opinion, that was the biggest play of the game. Hands down,” Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “It got us going on defense, he found the ball and scored, and we hadn’t stopped them, so that was a turning point in the game. It was huge.”
The Packers were playing with only four defensive linemen with Mike Neal (shoulder) and C.J. Wilson (knee) both sidelined by injuries. Although they got off to a rough start, the defensive unit endured with Daniels stepping up at an opportune time.
Daniels had surgery for a torn labrum in January and wasn’t able to take part in most of the NFL Combine drills, including the 40-yard dash, but he was able to show what he had Sunday.
“When I got in the open field, I was thinking I’m going to try to run fast to make sure people don’t say, ‘Man, you were looking slow out there,’” Daniels said. “I was really trying to break one free and give me some respect for my speed. I didn’t get to run at the combine, so the coaches never really got to see me run.”
Daniels’ play started a run of back-to-back turnovers with Sam Shields picking off Stafford on the Lions' ensuing possession.
When asked earlier this week, defensive coordinator Dom Capers couldn’t put a number on exactly how many defensive snaps Shields would see against the Detroit Lions on Sunday coming off a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him for the previous six games.
However, it took all of two defensive series before Shields returned to his starting spot on defense, relieving Davon House on the Lions’ third series.
The Packers didn’t force the Lions to punt in the first half, but the two turnovers keyed the defense holding Detroit to only six points the rest of the way, including a Jason Hanson field goal against a prevent defense with 12 seconds remaining.
“They gave our defense and gave our team a spark,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “Those turnovers are really big and Sam stole a possession for our offense to put points on the board, so that was a really big spark for us.”
Lang eyes return
The Packers kept offensive lineman T.J. Lang active for Sunday’s game against the Lions, but rookie Don Barclay got the start at right tackle with Lang as an emergency backup.
Lang was nursing an ankle injury he sustained against Minnesota last Sunday and didn’t practice on either Wednesday or Thursday this past week before alternating reps with Barclay at practice on Friday.
Barclay, who was making his first career start, didn’t know definitively until pregame that he was starting, but was serviceable again in relief after replacing Lang to the tune of 50 snaps last week.
“I think the goal is definitely to get back this week,” Lang said. “If I had to play, I probably would’ve been pushing it a little bit. It’s one of those things I just needed a little time to heal. The last thing I wanted was to go out and bang it up today and have a setback for the rest of the year.”
Lang said he lined up at several spots on Friday, but wasn’t sure if he’ll continue to fill at right tackle, a position that was vacated when Bryan Bulaga went down with a season-ending hip injury, or move back to his natural spot at left guard with how Barclay has been playing.
“The first drive, we were doing all right moving the ball, so I built off that,” Barclay said.
Neal sits out
Defensive end Mike Neal was one of the Packers’ seven inactive players on Sunday, leaving the Packers with only four defensive linemen against the Lions.
Neal, who has seven tackles and two sacks in eight games, was ruled doubtful to play on Friday after not practicing all week because of the shoulder injury he sustained in last Sunday’s 23-14 win over Minnesota.
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), wide receiver (Jordy Nelson), cornerback Charles Woodson (collarbone), defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee), inside linebacker Terrell Manning (shoulder) and running back James Starks (knee) also were inactive against the Lions.
It was the fourth consecutive game the Packers went without Matthews, but there’s hope that he could be back next week with Woodson also slated to return after practicing in a limited capacity this past week.
“I was telling both of them at the game, I can’t wait for both of y'all to come back,” Pickett said. “Their playmaking ability on the field, they change the game, so can’t wait to get those two back.”
♦ The personal foul flags continued to fly in the Packers’ direction as safety Morgan Burnett was called for unnecessary roughness, making contact to the head of Calvin Johnson on a 19-yard completion in the third quarter.
Burnett said after the game he doesn’t know if he’ll be fined for the hit, but the Packers have been fined in excess of $15,000 in each of the last three games for personal foul penalties.
“I just saw the ball and I saw Calvin going for it, and I was just trying to turn and make a break on it,” said Burnett, who finished with 11 tackles. “You just look at the tape and the only thing we can do is go from there.”
♦ Wide receiver Randall Cobb turned in his second 100-yard receiving day of the season and accounted for more than half of Aaron Rodgers’ passing yards with seven catches for 102 yards, including a one-handed snag near the sidelines that went for 24 yards.
With snow falling for most of the game, Cobb tested a visor during warm-ups to help with his punt returns, but decided to take it off because of the sleet accumulating “like a windshield.”
♦ Mason Crosby hit a 46-yard field goal for the Packers’ first points Sunday, but missed a critical 53-yarder midway through the third quarter that would have given Green Bay a 20-17 lead.
Crosby, who is 1-of-8 on field goals more than 50 yards, has missed at least one field in each of the last seven games he’s tried one. With the Packers leading 24-17 late, Crosby was good from 41 yards to give Green Bay a two-score cushion.
♦ Packers rookie Greg Van Roten saw his first NFL offensive snaps in the second half of Sunday’s game as the sixth offensive linemen reporting eligible. According to Barclay, the team planned to incorporate it as an extra wrinkle during installs last week.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.