The Green Bay Packers hit the quarter pole of the season at 3-1 following Sunday's role reversal of a 28-26 victory over the Detroit Lions. That's right where they should be. The Packers, coming off a loss in a key game at Chicago that they felt they should have won, emerged victorious from a game they should have lost.
"Don't feel like it, does it?" coach Mike McCarthy said of his club's record.
No, it doesn't. A couple players said McCarthy, seeing the long faces in the locker room after the game, had to remind his team twice that it had won.
"He knows that we don't feel the way that we need to feel right now off of the win," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "We won the game, and we were excited about that, but we know that this performance needs to pick up. We need to be a better team."
The Packers were the better team for the first 25 minutes. Green Bay, as expected, led 21-7 midway through the second quarter. Aaron Rodgers, as he typically does against the Lions, had three touchdown passes in the game's first five possessions. Then the Lions, showing so much more spunk than they have during most of their 19-year Wisconsin losing streak, took control.
Green Bay's next five possessions ended with a fumble, interception, punt, fumble and interception. Lions quarterback Shaun Hill – making just his 19th start in nine seasons -- looked anything like a journeyman in keeping plays alive and moving the chains. Tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler combined for 14 receptions against a defense that sorely missed the athleticism of linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and safety Morgan Burnett (knee). Rookie Jahvid Best looked like the running back the Packers wished they had. With a combination of solid blocking and play-calling that had defensive coordinator Dom Capers admittedly scared to blitz, they didn't allow a sack on 28 dropbacks in the second half.
The only thing the Lions couldn't do was score touchdowns. Just like the Packers last week, the Lions killed themselves with 13 penalties and an inability to parlay yards into touchdowns. So, Green Bay escaped the type of loss that, like last year at Tampa Bay, would have had the critics questioning this team's championship pedigree and clamoring for heads to roll.
"Like any ugly dates with great personalities, it was fine," Barnett said. "You took her out, had some food, but you dumped her. So, we're going to dump her off and work on the next date – try to get a cute one."
For a team with so much promise after last year's dazzling second half to the season, there hasn't been much cute about this season, their record notwithstanding. Things the Packers did so well last year, like taking care of the football, suffocating the opposing run game and dominating third down on both sides of the ball, have gone haywire. Things that had gone so well this year, like returning kickoffs and consistently putting together long drives, went haywire, too.
The Packers gave it away four times, two on interceptions by Rodgers and two on fumbled kickoff returns by Jordy Nelson. Last year, the Packers set a franchise record for time of possession. On Sunday, they lost that battle by more than 15 minutes to a team piloted by a backup quarterback and missing its No. 2 receiver. Over a stretch of four possessions apiece in the second half, the Lions ran 33 plays to the Packers' 11. That disparity is based largely on third down, with the Lions converting 10-of-17 (59 percent) compared to 3-of-7 for Green Bay (43 percent).
The coordinators' reactions spoke volumes. Capers took one look at the stats and laughed incredulously while shaking his head before meeting this reporter. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin didn't know what to make of what he had witnessed over the previous three hours.
"Today's kind of a funny game," Philbin said. "It's hard to evaluate anything. I don't know how many plays we had until we got the ball at the end. I don't know that we have a feel for anything. I don't have a feel for our passing game. I don't have a feel for our running game. It was a different kind of the game. I don't know that you can draw anything elaborate from either phase, other than, obviously, we need to play a lot better."
Capers was amused – make that, bemused -- when looking at the stats and seeing Hill's 40-yard scramble and game-high 53 rushing yards. It's one thing not preparing fully for Michael Vick and watching him run wild. It's quite another watching the plodding Hill.
"We were in man-under coverage and he's a veteran guy, so any time he saw us with our back turned, he knew we were in two-deep safeties and we were manned up with guys running on the hip, he pulled the ball down and ran with it," Capers said. "But, even if he did that, you want the guys to come off and converge quicker than 40 yards."
In the end, though, there are no columns in the standings for style points – or the lack of them. Last week's loss at Chicago was a loss, no matter how artistic it looked at times. Sunday's win against Detroit is a win, no matter how unworthy the performance.
And if you're looking for silver linings, at least the Packers finished the job. There were no time-management problems or stupid challenges or head-shaking penalties or game-losing fumbles. There was only a series of six first downs, punctuated by the victory formation and a hearty thanks to the Football Gods for evening the score.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.