DETROIT - The Green Bay Packers’ knack for winning ugly may catch up with them eventually, but that time wasn’t Sunday.
The Packers did in Detroit what they’ve done most of this season. Their play was underwhelming for much of the afternoon but, in the end, it was effective.
A 23-20 win against the Detroit Lions on Mason Crosby’s last-second, 33-yard field goal secured at least the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye for the Packers (13-3). They will be the No. 1 seed if the Seattle Seahawks (11-4) beat the visiting San Francisco 49ers (12-3) on Sunday night.
Crosby's kick also completed a comeback that included deficits of 14-0 in the first half and 20-13 in the fourth quarter.
It was not pretty, but there was a bit of poetic justice in Crosby's game-winning kick in Detroit. For Crosby, it was a return to the stadium that haunted him last season, when he missed four field goals and an extra point in a career-worst game. Crosby has been money this season, making 21-of-23 field goals. He saved his biggest for last, and in a stadium that gave him a chance at redemption.
"That was a tough game, man," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "I was really pleased with our guys in terms of that mentality of never quitting, being resilient. You have to give Detroit a ton of credit. We knew they were going to battle us. ... Just happy we found a way to get it done, although it wasn't pretty. And now it's a 0-0 season and we're on to the playoffs."
Here are five other observations:
For all the talk of not overlooking the Lions, the Packers overlooked the Lions. There’s really no other explanation. It’s not that the Lions, who were without quarterback Matthew Stafford and a slew of starters who are on injured reserve, played the Packers tough inside their home stadium. The Packers were disorganized and sloppy, from dropped passes to untimely penalties (an illegal substitution to knock them out of field-goal range in the first half) to lethargic defense (a 40-yard run with the Lions trying to run out the clock late in the first half) to players running onto the field just before the snap. Let’s put it this way: The Packers were fortunate to be playing an opponent that’s finished 3-12-1 with 12 losses in their last 13 games.
It might be time to start wondering how much Aaron Rodgers has left. For the most part, it’s hard to identify the decline of an all-time great quarterback. Whatever play they put forth on the field is easily masked by their name, their reputation, their legacy. In Rodgers’ case, that name, reputation and legacy are sterling. What Rodgers put forth on the field Sunday (27-for-55, 323 yards, two TDs, one interception) very much was not. Rodgers was largely outplayed by Lions backup David Blough. At 36 years old, Rodgers has admitted his mobility is not what it once was, but his arm has remained largely effective most of this season. On Sunday, Rodgers’ arm was erratic. With the exception of tight end Jimmy Graham’s drop on the Packers’ first play, this wasn’t a case of the skill unit letting him down. Rodgers has come back from poor games before, but with so much on the line Sunday, his troubles were stunning.
"A lot of plays, too many missed throws," Rodgers said. "I felt good about the throws, that's the crazy thing. I felt good about some of those that I overthrew by a couple of yards. We were just a little bit off, I think, at times. But when we had to make some plays, we made some plays."
Batting .500 on milestones
Aaron Jones got his 1,000 yards, but not his 20 touchdowns. The closest Jones came was late in the first half when Rodgers’ pass to an open Jones near the goal line was overthrown by inches. Still, the 1,000-yard mark is a club Jones is new to, having never reached it in a season before. He made no mystery about how much 1,000 yards would mean to him. Jones had 100 yards on 25 carries, finishing with 1,084 on his season, with 19 TDs.
Blake Martinez, a tackling machine, has caught flack for a lack of dynamic playmaking in the middle of the Packers' defense. One sequence in the fourth quarter helped change that narrative. Martinez cleaned up a missed sack from Za’Darius Smith on first down, setting up second-and-17. He then dropped back in coverage and played center field, intercepting Blough on the next play. Martinez’ 22-yard return — coupled with an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Lions — gave the Packers a short field, setting up their game-tying touchdown. It was only Martinez’ third career interception, his first since 2016. It could not have come at a better time.
The Lions clearly watched last week’s Packers game at the Minnesota Vikings. In that game, the Vikings had a big play lined up on a reverse throwback to quarterback Kirk Cousins, but receiver Stefon Diggs overthrew his wide-open target. The Lions called the same play Sunday, saving it for their first trip inside the red zone. This time, receiver Danny Amendola hit a wide-open Blough for a 19-yard touchdown and early 7-0 lead. The NFL is a copycat league, and it doesn’t take long for playbooks to be amended.