DETROIT - Aaron Rodgers, eyes wide with excitement, sat as his locker in the corner of Ford Field’s visiting dressing room. Teammates huddled around him, smiling in disbelief. There was Davante Adams. Mason Crosby. Randall Cobb.
Each wanted to know the same thing. How did the Green Bay Packers quarterback, like a magician waving his wand with an abracadabra, fashion a miracle Thursday night in Detroit?
Rodgers tried to explain. He threw the football, a prayer with a tight spiral, so high it looked like it could scrape Ford Field’s ceiling. From the rafters, the pass dropped three yards deep into the end zone. Tight end Richard Rodgers settled under it like a center fielder, clutched it with two hands, crumpled to the end zone turf.
The Packers’ sideline spilled onto the field. In the press box, general manager Ted Thompson and his staff stood and screamed. Shock. Exhilaration. Relief.
A miraculous 27-23 win at the Detroit Lions provided a temporary reprieve from a miserable six-week stretch. In the locker room, Rodgers tried to explain it all. He spoke quickly, his thoughts scrambling one after another, like he was trying to figure it out himself. As he did, receiver Jared Abbrederis walked up to Cobb. Tapped his teammate on the elbow.
“What did you see?” Abbrederis asked.
That’s all everyone wanted to know late Thursday night. All around the locker room, players couldn’t stop talking about the Hail Mary. Their bags were scattered across the floor. Their showers could wait.
There were stories to share.
Pete and Wes break down the Green Bay Packers' 27-23 win over the Detroit Lions on Thursday night at Ford Field in Detroit.
“I’ve seen it several times,” outside linebacker Julius Peppers said, “but I can’t remember being a part of it. It’s been a while.”
For a moment, Davante Adams thought he might be the hero. He was in the end zone, right next to Richard Rodgers. He saw the football falling, waiting to be plucked. The play was designed for him to get the football, with his big tight end blocking out like a power forward.
Then, Adams said, the Packers’ tight end jumped in front of him. “He came out of nowhere,” Adams said, shaking his head. He was sure glad Richard Rodgers did.
“I just heard cheering,” Adams said. “And it was a different type of cheering. It wasn’t a deflection cheer. So I looked down, and I see Rich just holding it in his chest. So I’m like, ‘Oh, this man just caught it!’ So I just started mauling him, then the rest of the team comes.
“It’s wild. That’s the stuff you see in movies, man. In the past, the Packers have been a part of some interesting Hail Mary plays like that. So it's great to get one of those."
Left tackle David Bakhtiari watched from 60 yards downfield. He was blocking, trying to give receivers enough time to sprint across the field. He did.
Aaron Rodgers was able to set his feet, a solid base for this rocket launcher. Bakhtiari, who returned after being knocked from the game with a knee injury, didn’t see the referee signal touchdown. He didn’t need to.
“I saw all the guys in the end zone, and my first thought,” Bakhtiari said, “was, ‘Is this ball even going to make it?’ I look up, try to find (the football). I see it, and as it goes down, I see the trajectory. I see (Richard Rodgers), and as soon as it touched his hands, I just saw the thing just stick in it. It was crazy. I just started running around, trying to grab anyone. I forgot my knee was even hurt.
“Words can’t describe it. I mean, you can’t write that. You guys all can say you were there.”
B.J. Raji watched from the sideline. In his mind, Raji said, he was preparing for what would come next. The disappointment. The inevitable loss. His “soliloquy” for the official who Raji felt missed a potential pass interference call two players earlier.
Deep down the right sideline, Abbrederis collided with a Lions safety Isa Abdul-Quddus. No flag. Yes, the Packers were furious, but they were also left with just six seconds left. One last play. Aaron Rodgers threw to James Jones, who lateralled to Richard Rodgers, who tossed it back to his quarterback.
Lions defensive end Devin Taylor tackled Aaron Rodgers after a few steps, which could have ended the game. This time, there was a penalty flag on the ground. The officials determined Taylor grabbed a piece of Rodgers’ facemask, giving the Packers 15 yards and one, untimed down from their own 39.
“As soon as we got that 15-yard penalty,” rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins said, “I knew we were going to have a chance to actually reach the end zone.”
Rollins tracked the football in flight. A cornerback, he’s practiced these situations plenty of times. He knew what to look for.
Right away, Rollins said, he noticed the football’s spiral. It was spinning tight, its nose leading the way. A “pretty ball,” Rollins called it. If a receiver could just get under it, Rollins thought, he’d have a chance to catch it cleanly.
The football dropped. As it fell out of view, Rollins looked up at the big screen overhead.
“Then I saw Richard catch it clean,” Rollins said. “The rest was history.”
The Packers’ recent history has been dreadful. They started the season 6-0, took that undefeated record into their bye week at the end of October. Since Nov. 1, they had lost four of their past five games.
They were one play from losing another. One play from watching their 6-0 start crumble to a 7-5 record. They needed a miracle to avoid disaster. They’ll gladly take it.
“This is perfect,” Peppers said. “This is right on time. We needed this. This is something we can build off of. This is big time. This is big for our team.”
firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood