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Mike Woods column: Emergence of run game highlights underwhelming win

Dec. 10, 2012
 

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Green Bay Packers running back DuJuan Harris (26) runs past the block of Josh Sitton (71) to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Sunday night's game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

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In this season of being just good enough, the Packers followed the script once more Sunday.

This is not a comforting trend, given that we understand truly good teams treat inferior teams in the same way Gallagher treats a watermelon.

It was a seemingly uninspired Packers group that gave life to a Detroit team going nowhere, falling behind 14-0, before they embarked on the long swim upstream and were able to come ashore with a 27-20 victory over the Lions, a ritual that has now taken place for 21 consecutive years within our borders.

So now the Packers can go to Chicago on Sunday and, with a win, wrap up the NFC Central title and keep hopes alive for attaining the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

They don’t have the look of a powerhouse, nor a team that would send even a single tingle down the spine of an opponent. Often they appear as vulnerable as a cake at a birthday party.

Still, more often than not this season they’ve found a way to come out on top, no matter how they may stumble around, and that is a redeeming quality that has accounted for nine wins through 13 weeks.

Whether that matters an iota when the stakes are raised in a few weeks is impossible to determine at this point. But after 13 games, it is the only definitive conclusion you can make about this team.

“On the sideline the guys didn’t blink,’’ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy of the early hole his steam stepped in to. “That’s how we play. The guys just keep playing, keep punching.

“That’s the impressive part of our football team. We just don’t have a couple of guys make plays, we have a lot of guys make plays and that speaks volumes about the depth of our football team and all the young guys contributing.’’

Mike Daniels, the 294-pound rookie out of Iowa, was up for hero worship Sunday after he took a ball that slipped out of the hands of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, made a Derek Jeter-like scoop, raced 43 yards to the end zone and made a Lambeau Leap that, we later learned, would put Aaron Rodgers to shame.

It turned a 14-3 shortfall into a more workable 14-10 deficit and allowed the Packers, who were soundly outplayed statistically in the first half, to discover a ray of sunshine amid all the snow that cascaded down around them.

“That was the momentum shift we needed in the game,’’ said McCarthy.

If there was a noteworthy positive trend — and, honestly, it’s too early to call it a trend — is that a much-needed running game produced excellent numbers for the second week in a row.

The fact that it has done so with replacements in the offensive line and its two most proven backs on the bench for the remainder of the year is at the very least cause for optimism.

Neither the Vikings (who allowed 152 rushing yards) nor the Lions (140) are great run defenses, but they are far from the worst, which brings a degree of legitimacy to the final numbers.

And a seven-play, 59-yard drive that featured all running plays and was capped by an impressive 14-yard TD run by practice squad promotion DuJuan Harris was truly Badger-esque.

It not only gave the Packers a 24-17 lead but hope that Harris may be a similar find to James Starks in 2010.

“That’s what linemen want, that’s what backs want, that’s the way playoff football here is in December,’’ said McCarthy, speaking words that prior to the previous two weeks would have merely sounded as wishful thinking.

The only thing the running game did not produce was a significant night for Rodgers. Logic dictates that if the Packers can run the ball effectively, it makes Rodgers and the passing game that much more dangerous.

But Rodgers’ best play Sunday was a 27-yard touchdown run in a game where he finished just 14-of-24 for 173 yards, no TDs, a lost fumble and a 80.7 rating.
If this had been a loss, Rodgers’ numbers would be under greater scrutiny. As cirumstances played out, it didn’t matter.
Once again the Packers played below expectations. But they found another hero or two, received some unexpected contributions and proved to be just good enough yet again.

“I kind of did some foreshadowing the last couple of weeks; that just how some games go," said Rodgers. “It may be ugly at times, but the main thing is winning."

If that’s the script from here on out, somehow, someway it will look like a thing of beauty.

Mike Woods: 920-993-1000, ext. 232; or mwoods@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @PCMikeW

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