The Packers and Lions exhaled about an hour before kickoff when quarterback Kirk Cousins of Washington threw a last-minute interception to officially squash his team’s playoff hopes. In doing so, Cousins assured the Packers and Lions of playoff berths, and Sunday night’s game became a battle for the division title. A game that was billed as a matchup of quarterbacks did not disappoint, with Aaron Rodgers (300 yards, four touchdowns) shouldering the offense as he has during the winning streak and Matthew Stafford (347 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) continuing what is arguably the best year of his career. The Lions, kings of the fourth-quarter comeback, entered the final period trailing by three and managed only a field goal until getting a late Hail Mary touchdown as the Packers prevailed, 31-24.
McGINN: Packers roll to NFC North title
DOUGHERTY: Packers get Giants rematch
BOX SCORE: Packers 31, Lions 24
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Nursing a three-point lead, the Packers faced a crucial third-and-9 play from the Lions’ 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter, and the Lions needed a stop to keep it a one-score game as the clock wound down. But Rodgers did what Rodgers does and danced behind the line of scrimmage to create a throwing lane. He took the snap and rolled to his left. He stopped dead and took one step back to his right. Then he scrambled left some more until rookie wideout Geronimo Allison broke free across the back of the end zone. Rodgers fired a dart just a few feet off the ground, and Allison slid to catch a pass that gave the Packers a 23-14 lead. Detroit threatened briefly down the stretch but could not overcome the two-score deficit.
The remarkable play of Rodgers continued for another week to reward the Packers with a home playoff game next Sunday. Rodgers completed 27 of his 39 passes (69 percent) and dissected a Lions’ secondary despite the return of Darius Slay, their best corner. He took advantage of tremendous pass protection by holding the ball for what felt like minutes as the opposing corners and safeties ran in circles across the field. When he finally threw, the accuracy was tremendous most of the evening. He ended the game with 300 yards, four touchdowns and finished the regular season with more touchdown passes than anyone in the league. He has 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last six games.
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Among the biggest storylines of the week was the health of Slay, who missed the previous game with a hamstring injury and did not practice until Wednesday. Slay, considered the best cornerback in the division and among the best in the league, played a significant role in containing Jordy Nelson, who finished with just six catches for 66 yards. He followed Nelson across the field and covered him anytime Nelson lined up on the perimeter. To get away from Slay’s coverage, Nelson played more snaps from the slot as the game went on. The majority of his production, small though it may have been, came from this position.
RANTS AND RAVES
RAVE: With wide receiver Randall Cobb (ankle) missing his second straight game, Allison earned significant playing time once more. And like he has all season — dating back to his debut against the Atlanta Falcons — Allison did not disappoint. The undrafted free agent from Illinois finished with four catches for 91 yards and a touchdown as Rodgers looked his way time and again with Nelson contained for most of the evening. With his long limbs and fluid running style, Allison offers a style no one else in the receiving corps can match. He should stay in the lineup for the foreseeable future.
RANT: Whether you’re talking about turnovers or penalties, the Packers did nothing to beat themselves during the five-game win streak entering Week 17. But the same could not be said about Sunday night. Flags, flags and more flags disrupted the Packers throughout the game and halted any semblance of offensive rhythm in the first half. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (false start), left tackle David Bakhtiari (false start) and right guard T.J. Lang (holding, declined) were all penalized along the offensive line. Outside linebacker Datone Jones (offside), wide receiver Jeff Janis (holding), Allison (illegal block in the back, declined) and Rodgers (delay of game) also logged infractions. And that was just the first half. The Packers finished with 10 penalties for 75 yards.
RAVE: The revolving door that is the Packers’ running game landed on fullback Aaron Ripkowski, and the second-year player responded well. Ripkowski, who had not carried the ball more than three times since the loss to Atlanta, chipped in nine carries for 61 yards as Ty Montgomery (leg) dealt with injury and Christine Michael was a non-factor. As expected, Ripkowski powered through the line of scrimmage to pick up yards after contact. He also caught two passes for 15 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown.
RANT: As it turns out, the concussion suffered by No. 1 cornerback Sam Shields in the season opener foreshadowed a dismal year of injuries at the position. Just as the Packers were starting to get healthier — both Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall had groin problems in the middle portion of the season — the wheels fell off Sunday night. Randall (knee), Rollins (neck) and rookie Makinton Dorleant (knee) all left the game at different times to handcuff the Packers’ defense even further. Micah Hyde, a safety and nickel corner, was forced to play on the perimeter and safety Morgan Burnett became a full-time corner as defensive coordinator Dom Capers did his best to improvise. Hyde made a game-clinching interception in the final minutes.
SUMMARY: How they scored
REPLAY: Nagler talks Packers victory
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DID YOU NOTICE?
» Rollins was carted off the field on a backboard late in the third quarter with his head and neck secured. Rollins’ head slammed into the ground along the Lions’ sideline after he toppled over wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., who had just caught a deep pass. Players from both teams were down on a knee to pay their respect as Rollins left the field. Rollins was taken to a local hospital.
» Joe Thomas, the Packers’ best coverage linebacker, left the game in the first half after re-aggravating the back injury that landed him on the injury report during the week. Jake Ryan played the majority of snaps alongside Morgan Burnett, who played much of the game in his hybrid linebacker role.
» Kicker Mason Crosby made a 53-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter. It was his longest kick of the season.
» Ripkowski registered the first receiving touchdown of his career when he caught a 7-yard pass from Rodgers in the second quarter.