Six weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers looked lost, destined to miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2008. At 4-6, Aaron Rodgers proclaimed, now famously, that the team could run the table and get itself into the postseason.
And run the table they did. The Packers defeated the Detroit Lions 31-24 in a winner-take-all game for the NFC North title to extend their winning streak to six games and finish the regular season with a 10-6 record. The victory lands Green Bay a home playoff matchup against the New York Giants, while Detroit secured a wild card and will travel to Seattle next week.
Once again, the team’s success fell squarely on the shoulders of its star quarterback. Rodgers has been nothing short of stellar over the season’s second half, and the story was much the same Sunday night in Detroit. Number 12 completed 27/39 passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns, and an exceptional second half helped Green Bay secure the win even with another lackluster defensive showing.
The offense started out relatively slowly for both teams. Neither team scored in the opening quarter, as the two exchanged punts on the game’s first four possessions before Detroit put together a sustained drive that resulted in a missed field goal. The Packers then took advantage of the miss, putting together a 71-yard drive that culminated in an Aaron Ripkowski touchdown reception.
Detroit responded with touchdowns on its next two possessions, moving with ease against a porous Packers’ secondary, to jump ahead 14-7. Green Bay got into field goal range just before halftime, giving the Lions a 14-10 advantage midway through the game.
Once the second half began, the Packers’ offense started to take over. Green Bay scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions in the second half, allowing them to regain and then build a 31-17 lead. Davante Adams accounted for two of those touchdowns, giving him 12 on the year, tied for the second most in the NFL. The other touchdown came courtesy of undrafted rookie Geronimo Allison, who Rodgers found in the back of the end zone after expertly escaping the pocket and evading a couple rushers.
With Detroit trying to make a comeback against a defense that lost both Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in the game, Matthew Stafford threw an interception in the end zone to Micah Hyde to effectively seal the deal. The Lions did get a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game on a Hail Mary to Anquan Boldin, but there would be no miracle for Detroit as the Packers recovered the ensuing onside kick to secure the win.
The defense remains a concern as the red hot Packers begin to prepare for the playoffs, especially given the new injuries suffered against Detroit. The unit continuously got burned on deep throws as well as through the middle of the field, surrendering over 400 yards in the game. Hyde’s pick proved to be a game-clincher, and a couple key sacks stalled earlier Lions’ drives.
But where the defense continued to struggle, the offense continued its trend of tearing through opponents over the past six weeks. Rodgers once again spread the ball effectively, connecting with eight different receivers. His 126.0 quarterback rating marked his sixth time over 100 in the last seven games, and it was the second week in a row where he threw four touchdowns.
Rodgers, Ripkowski, and Ty Montgomery all averaged more than four yards per carry, as Green Bay rolled to 153 yards on the ground. The receiving corps was led by Jordy Nelson (6 catches, 66 yards) and Geronimo Allison, who posted his second straight strong game with a team-high 91 yards and an impressive diving touchdown. In Randall Cobb’s absence, Allison has shown he is deserving of additional snaps.
With the loss, Detroit drops to the NFC’s sixth seed, securing a postseason berth thanks to Washington’s loss earlier in the day. Stafford threw for 347 yards and two touchdowns, and four Detroit receivers posted at least 50 receiving yards against the Packers’ secondary. The Lions must now travel to Seattle for a Saturday matchup with the third seeded Seahawks.
The win gives Green Bay its fifth division title of the past six seasons, and its eighth straight playoff berth. The team has come a long way from its 4-6 start, and the team’s success at running the table since then has made the Packers one of the most dangerous teams in the league as the postseason begins.
The first test for Green Bay will be another matchup with the New York Giants, who have ended two recent Packers’ playoff runs in heartbreaking fashion at Lambeau Field. In spite of the recent postseason struggles against New York, Green Bay will gladly take a home game instead of traveling to face the Seahawks.
The Packers won this year’s regular season meeting 23-16, but both teams are vastly different than they were back in Week 5. The defense needs to overcome its recent struggles to give Green Bay a chance to make a playoff run, but if Rodgers and the offense continue their recent play, they have a chance against anyone.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .