Ring it up: Rodgers’ heave one for the ages

Eric Goska
For Gannett Wisconsin Media
View Comments

“Rodgers! Touchdown! Unbelievable!”

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates his game-winning touchdown pass against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit.

“Rodgers! Touchdown! Unbelievable!”

If Aaron Rodgers or Richard Rodgers is in need of a new ringtone, those three words are as good as any after the theatrics the two staged Thursday night in Detroit.

Quarterback Rodgers hit tight end Rodgers with a 61-yard touchdown pass with no time remaining to complete a remarkable 27-23 comeback by the Packers over the Lions at Ford Field. The 6-foot-4 tight end used his large frame to box out and out-jump the crowd that had gathered in the end zone to await Green Bay’s final, desperate heave.

For the tight end, it was the longest catch of his professional career. For the quarterback, it was his 11th fourth-quarter pass of 50 or more yards, the most by a Packers player in history.

“Aikman! Touchdown! Unbelievable!” is, of course, what blasts forth from Troy Aikman’s phone in a television commercial for beer. The former quarterback threw 188 TD passes (including playoffs) in a 12-year career for the Dallas Cowboys from 1989 through 2000.

Customizing that ringtone seems reasonable given the manner in which the Packers dispatched Detroit. In the 171st regular-season meeting between the two, the improbable became reality, ineptness yielded to adeptness, and the upstart was upended at the last possible moment.

The amazing finish will go down as one of the best in Packers’ history, but the Lions’ first quarter was noteworthy as well. Without it, Green Bay never mounts the comeback it did.

Let’s start at the end.

Erasing a 20-point deficit is never easy. Having to connect on a pass of more than 50 yards with no time remaining is equally as daunting.

Green Bay had come back to win when down 20 or more points only three times in 95 years. They beat the Rams 35-23 in 1982 (down 23-0), the Cowboys 37-36 in 2013 (down 26-3) and the Saints 35-34 in 1989 (down 21-0).

Matt Prater’s 34-yard, third-quarter field goal put Detroit up 20-0. The Packers had 23 minutes, 53 seconds to dig themselves out.

Green Bay still trailed 23-21 when it got the ball with 23 seconds left. The team was given one last chance – from their own 39-yard line – after Lions defensive end Devin Taylor was flagged for a facemask penalty.

In the 85 years since 1930, the Packers have completed 82 passes of 50 or more yards in the fourth quarter. That’s an average of about one a year.

No more than 19 of those occurred in the final two minutes or overtime. And prior to Thursday, just three of those 19 had carried with them the winning score: Babe Parilli to Bill Howton (75 yards) with 29 seconds left to beat the Colts 24-21 in 1957, Brett Favre to Greg Jennings (82) in overtime to down the Broncos 19-13 in 2007 and Rodgers to Greg Jennings (50) with 1:11 to go to top the Bears 21-15 in 2009.

Rodgers to Rodgers truly was a wing and a prayer.

The 61-yard heave was the 11th fourth-quarter pass of 50 or more yards that Aaron Rodgers has thrown. With it he broke Bart Starr’s team record of 10.

Lions’ big first quarter

This Rodgers-to-Rodgers bomb likely wouldn’t have been necessary had the Packers been able to stop the Lions from scoring early. Detroit posted 17 first-quarter points.

How unusual was that? It was only the second time the Lions have done that in the series, which dates to 1930.

Over the years, Detroit has been a notorious slow starter. It has scored 10 or more first-quarter points only 23 times in the series. It has been shut out 78 times.

This shortage of points has helped Green Bay dominate the rivalry over the last 24 years.

Thursday at Ford Field, Matthew Stafford fired two touchdown passes in the opening 15 minutes. Tight end Eric Ebron and receiver Calvin Johnson were on the receiving end.

Routine? Not for the Lions.

Stafford became only the fourth Lions passer to throw two TD passes against the Packers in a first quarter. That’s right. It had been done only three times before: Greg Landry (1971), Gary Danielson (1983) and Jon Kitna (2006).

It was Danielson who guided the Lions to their only other 17-point first quarter. His 21-yard TD pass to receiver Freddie Scott came on the heels of a 27-yard Eddie Murray field goal and a 1-yard Billy Sims TD run as Detroit crushed Green Bay 30-10 at Lambeau Field on Dec. 12, 1982.

Rainbow makers

Since 1930, Packers players who threw the most fourth-quarter passes of 50 or more yards

No. Player Years

11 Aaron Rodgers 11

10 Bart Starr 16

8 Lynn Dickey 9

8 Brett Favre 16

5 Tobin Rote 7

5 Babe Parilli 4

View Comments