Aaron Ripkowski has a John Kuhn look to him
DETROIT - There's no debate when it comes to the identity of the Green Bay Packers' lead running back.
It is Ty Montgomery.
But that doesn't mean there isn't room for a 6-1, 246-pound fullback named Aaron Ripkowski, who might be a better runner than he is a blocker. In the Packers' biggest game of the year, a winner-take-all showdown with the Detroit Lions for the NFC North title, Ripkowski set career highs with nine carries for 61 yards and caught two passes for 15 yards and a touchdown.
"He carried a little more than we anticipated," coach Mike McCarthy said.
Which was fine with Ripkowski. Or not.
"It feels good," the second-year fullback said. "As long as we're moving the ball in the right direction, I don't care who's getting the ball. As long as we're scoring points."
DOUGHERTY: Packers get Giants rematch
INSIDER: Thumbs up to Rodgers' wizardry
BOX SCORE: Packers 31, Lions 24
Montgomery has had some problems with pass protection and so Ripkowski allowed McCarthy a little insurance when the Packers went to their no-huddle. It also allowed McCarthy to force the Lions to keep personnel on the field that could stop the run, giving one of the receivers a match-up with a linebacker or safety.
The Packers opened with Montgomery and Ripkowski in the backfield but as they went to their one-back sets, they stuck with Ripkowski, who on his first two carries had gains of 10 and 5 yards.
“The fun thing today was we had a couple of really good schematic things,” Rodgers said after the game. “The first run out of split backs with a two-tight-end set on the right, he had kind of a nice clean hole.
“But then you saw him with the reading. He made some really good reads today.”
The Packers were able to take advantage of the Lions’ concern with Rodgers’ passing by spreading out their receivers and leaving Ripkowski in as a blocker or safety valve.
When they got inside the 10-yard line, they set up Ripkowski for a big play. On second and goal at the 7-yard line, Rodgers dropped back to pass and Ripkowski acted like he was going to block. At the last second he released into the middle and the Lions’ safeties were too deep to get to him when he got the ball.
“Nice job getting into the end zone on the check-down,” Rodgers said. “He’s just a very consistent player. John Kuhn is one of my all-time favorite teammates, and we had a great run together. Rip’s approach this year, he obviously learned a lot from John, but he’s taken a lot of steps forward this year and been that John Kuhn type of player, where you just know you can count on him.
“Where if Mike says, ‘Hey, who do you want back there on the big third down?’ I want Rip back there, just like I wanted John back there.”
The emphasis on Ripkowski may have been a one-game occurrence. Montgomery suffered what appeared to be a leg injury early in the game and that played a part in Ripkowski getting so many snaps. But protection was also an issue because of the pressure the Lions brought with a number of unscouted looks.
So it wound up being Ripkowski's day.
In two years at Oklahoma, Ripkowski had six carries for 13 yards and three touchdowns. He also had eight catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns. That's five touchdowns in 14 touches.
With 34 carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns and nine receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown in 2016, Ripkowski has made himself into more than a short-yardage back.
"Honestly, he had some really good runs," center Corey Linsley said. "The man is a hard worker. He comes in every day and puts his head down and works hard. Does everything for us."
Montgomery, who had eight carries for 44 yards, finished the season with 77 carries for 456 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He also had 44 receptions for 348 yards.
When the Packers take on the Giants on Sunday in a wild-card game, chances are Montgomery will be back in his normal lead-back role. But after beating the Lions and winning the NFC North, the Packers have another tool in their pocket.