Had the Packers lost to the lowly Detroit Lions, like the stat sheet suggested for most of the game, Monday would have been a day of soul-searching. But by escaping Lambeau Field with a 28-26 victory in game they probably should have lost, the Packers might have gained more than just a win.
"There's nothing lucky about winning in this game," summed up coach Mike McCarthy. "So, I think our team showed a lot of resiliency, fought threw a lot of tough spots. We put more points on the board than our opponent today."
That was about all the Packers did. Until the Packers' final offensive drive, the Lions flat-out wore out the Packers. They were ahead 431 to 188 in total yards, 78 to 28 in total plays, and 37:37 to 15:51 in time of possession in a display that became borderline domination in the second half. And, yes, these are the same Detroit Lions that are 2-34 over their last three seasons.
The Packers' defense was gassed perhaps like never before. Just ask cornerback Charles Woodson, who posted a team-high 13 tackles, three pass breakups and a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"This is one of the toughest games I've been in," said the 13-year NFL veteran. "You're going to need some of those games. You're going to have some of those games during the course of the season. Things are going to be getting better through the rest of this season. So, we're going to have some tough games. We're going to have to fight in a lot of games like today, so as long as we come out on top at the end, that's all that matters."
Just when the Packers' defense was on the brink of breaking, it dug deep. On its heels all second half, it limited the Lions - down 28-14 early in the second half - to four field goals after being penetrated inside the 35-yard line four times. None was more defining than the final two, where even amidst going through almost their entire depth chart on defense, the Packers found a way to curtail the Lions' comeback bid.
Leading 28-23 with just more than 12 minutes remaining, the defense successfully defended three Shaun Hill passes from the 6-yard line to force a field goal. A series later, after a Rodgers interception, Woodson defended two consecutive passes from the Packers' 37-yard line to force a punt with 6:39 remaining.
Considering the journeyman Hill had his way for much of the day – 34 of 54 for 331 yards – the five passes defended over those two series really boiled down to getting it done when it mattered.
"That's what we're prepared to do," said nickel defensive back Jarrett Bush. "That's what (defensive coordinator) Dom (Capers) prepares us for. When our backs are against the wall, how are we going to respond? We showed that today. We kept making them kick field goals, kick field goals, kick field goals. As long as they don't get into the end zone, it's anybody's game."
Added nose tackle B.J. Raji: "As long as you keep fighting on defense, anything can happen."
With its final weary stop, the Packers' defense turned over the ball to the offense, and arguably one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL (22nd entering the game but only because of Aaron Rodgers). But just then, something clicked. Like the Packers' defense, the offense, too, dug deep. It closed out the final 6:32 of the game with its most impressive drive of the season -- against a strong Lions front four -- with a chest-thumping, 12-play, 73-yard drive. Fullback-turned-halfback John Kuhn carried seven times for 34 yards, and with a Rodgers 16-yard scramble and 15-yard play-action pass to Donald Lee mixed in, the Packers avoided a potential disaster.
"That's what you look for," McCarthy said of the game's final drive. "You refer to it as a four-minute offense situation and that's the toughest time in the game – it should be – to run the football. We lined up and it was real football. I can't say enough about our run-blocking unit. I thought they hit their targets and John did an excellent job of making the right read and holding the ball for six-plus minutes. So, I thought the keep (pass) was a big play to Donald Lee. I thought Aaron did an excellent job with the execution there. But to finish the game right there, I thought was a real statement for our offense. We had plenty of tough moments through the game, but to finish the game off like that is something we can build on."
And in the locker room, that means everything.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org