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After first-half wakeup call, Packers' defense takes charge with Chandon Sullivan's pick-6

Jim Owczarski
Packers News

GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers ran into the locker room at halftime with a lead over the Detroit Lions – barely.

The Lions scored two first quarter touchdowns to take a 14-3 lead before the Packers' defense forced two punts, only to see the Lions move 36 yards in 11 seconds to set up a tying field-goal attempt from Matt Prater from 57 yards out. The kick had more than enough leg but sailed wide right.

A 17-14 margin felt precarious for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s group.

The teams had nearly identical stat lines through the first 30 minutes. Both teams earned 14 first downs and were 2-for-2 in the red zone, but the Lions were a sizzling 5-for-7 on third down in the first half. They rushed 16 times for 80 yards (5.0 average) and Matthew Stafford was sharp as the Lions had 199 yards of offense to the Packers’ 205.

In fact, an unnecessary roughness penalty on Detroit offensive lineman Oday Oboushi did more to stop the Lions' offense than much of what Green Bay did.

“Everything that we gave them in the first half, it was on our part,” Packers outside linebacker Rashan Gary said. “We knew coming in, all we had to do was settle down. They had two big drives and then we started chipping away, started getting more three and outs, three and outs. We came into halftime and just said we gotta keep playing our keys. They’re showing us everything that we’re seeing on film.”

That was part of the defensive rally in the locker room.

“We have a standard and we just hold everybody accountable to that,” Packers nickel cornerback Chandon Sullivan said.

The Packers' offense opened the second half with a one-play, 75-yard touchdown run by Aaron Jones to provide some breathing room with a 24-14 lead.

Sullivan and Gary then teamed up to essentially put the game away.

Following a Packers punt – which was aided by another Lions unnecessary roughness penalty – Stafford got under center at his own 5-yard line with Adrian Peterson set behind him in the end zone. Lions receiver Danny Amendola was in the slot, in front of Gary. Receivers Marvin Jones Jr. and Quintez Cephus were stacked further outside.

“I seen the formation and I just see it in his eyes,” Gary said of Stafford. “The back was a little bit wide that play and initially I just read to go get to it.”

Stafford gave a small fake to Peterson but Gary accelerated right to the quarterback with safety Darnell Savage blitzing right behind him.

Peterson went low but Gary was able to create pressure. Stafford slung it out to the left flat to Amendola, where Sullivan just broke down on the ball. He then stumbled into the end zone with his second career interception and first pick-6.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Sullivan said. “The first pick-6. It’s just showing my hard work is paying off. I believe the quarterback thought we were in man, but we were in a zone call. Coach ‘Pet’ dialed it up and I was able to make a play, so shout out to the d-line with getting pressure and I just took care of the rest.”

Green Bay Packers cornerback Chandon Sullivan reacts after returning an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, September 20, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

For the Lions, it was a back-breaker.

“They brought the free safety off the slot and so it was technically a hot for me,” Stafford said. “I’ve got to feel (Sullivan) out there and just dirt (the throw) or try to slide around him and find Marv. Obviously, a huge play in the game I can’t make. I’ve got to find a way to make sure that we’re not giving up points there. If I have to throw an incomplete that looks horrible or find a way to get around and just get the ball out, I’ve got to do that.”

Sullivan was in coverage of Amendola on a third-and-1 play that forced another quick three-and-out on the next Lions’ possession. The Packers added a field goal to make it 34-14, a run of 31 unanswered points.

Detroit scored an early fourth-quarter touchdown, but Gary had a sack and split another with Preston Smith. Rookie safety Vernon Scott added a sack as the Lions gained only 10 yards of offense over their final eight plays. It was a stark difference from Week 1 when Minnesota scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns after falling behind by three scores.

The Lions managed just five first downs, nine rushing yards and 108 yards of total offense while going 1-for-5 on third down in the second half.

“I just feel like we learned from our mistakes last week,” Sullivan said. “You know, it wasn’t good enough. Coach Pettine, you know, he dialed it up. Kept the pressure on the quarterback and just allowed the back end to do what we do, make plays on the ball. So, it was just a combination of everything.”

Adams, Linsley sidelined

The Packers' offense continued to roll Sunday, but they did it for the most part without star wide receiver Davante Adams. First, Adams appeared to have an ankle rolled up on while run blocking on the last play of the first quarter and then appeared to tweak a hamstring early in the second half. He didn’t play most of the half after being ruled as questionable to return.

After catching 14 passes on 17 targets in Week 1, Adams had three receptions for 36 yards against the Lions.

Center Corey Linsley exited the game with a hand injury and returner and offensive specialist Tyler Ervin was evaluated for a concussion. Lucas Patrick shifted from right guard to center, with rookie Jon Runyan playing his second straight game at the right guard spot.

Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling appeared to have suffered a scary head or neck injury after a diving collision with Lions safety Duron Harmon, but after an evaluation he was allowed to return to play.

Right tackle Billy Turner was active for the game, but he did not play. Turner, who injured his right knee Aug. 30, practiced fully Wednesday and Thursday before being a limited participant Friday. Rick Wagner started at right tackle.

“I don’t think that was anything we anticipated,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “We had Billy Turner take a lot of reps throughout the week in practice, and it was just one of those long-term decision that we thought was best, although he was suited up, to rest him and try to get him even healthier for the rest of the season. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’ve said that many times.”