In a battle of 110-pound weaklings for most of Sunday's game at Ford Field, the Detroit Lions' third-string quarterback, Drew Stanton, led a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was the difference in a 7-3 victory over the Packers.
While the slumbering Ford Field crowd came to life in the fourth quarter, the Packers' playoff hopes took a huge step toward their death. Green Bay is 8-4, with the Patriots, Giants and Bears to close the schedule. Even with Chicago getting smashed at home against New England, that's an out-of-conference game while the Packers lost in the division. That's huge in a tiebreaker.
Rodgers suffered a concussion when hit by Landon Johnson on a scramble late in the second quarter and was replaced by backup Matt Flynn. It was the circle-it-in-red moment on a horrendous day for an offense that had averaged almost 32 points in its last four games.
Stanton's 13-yard screen pass to third tight end Will Heller accounted for the game's only touchdown with 7:55 remaining in the game. Clay Matthews sensed the screen coming too late and Desmond Bishop and Nick Collins were taken out by a convoy of blockers.
Green Bay's ensuing drive went nowhere. The defense gave Flynn and the offense another chance, 92 yards away from the end zone. Flynn, who finished 15-of-26 for 177 yards, hit James Jones for 18 yards, Dimitri Nance for 14 on a screen and Greg Jennings for 9 to the 49-yard line at the two-minute warning.
Flynn hit Andrew Quarless on a crossing route for 11 to the 40 and Quarless again for 8, with a timeout with 1:29 remaining. After a draw to Brandon Jackson gained a yard, Flynn overthrew Donald Driver, who had broken open on a deep crossing route and was almost intercepted, setting up fourth-and-1. Flynn went deep to Jennings, who was one-on-one against Nathan Vasher, but the ball was just overthrown.
Game over. Is the season over, too?
Who knows how the game turns out if not for one play late in the first quarter. The Packers had just one first down to show for their first three possessions – with Quarless coughing it up to kill a promising opening drive.
On second-and-3 from their 27, it was the Packers' pet long play. Rodgers faked a handoff to James Starks and booted to his right. Jennings, who was lined up to the left, ran to the post. The pass was perfect and would have been a touchdown but the ball bounced off Jennings' hands and right into the mitts of safety Amari Spievey for an interception. The Lions were called for illegal contact but, because Rodgers was deemed outside the pocket, the penalty was waved off – much to coach Mike McCarthy's dismay.
Green Bay had two first downs in the first half but, behind Flynn, got three on its first possession of the second half – highlighted by a 20-yard completion to Quarless -- with Mason Crosby drilling a 42-yard field goal for the opening points.
Flynn had the Packers on the move again, hitting Jennings for 32 yards and Jordy Nelson for 18. On first-and-goal from 9, he almost was intercepted on a poorly thrown slant to Jennings. On second down, he went for Driver in the end zone but didn't see linebacker DeAndre Levy, who made the interception. It was the last of the Packers' three giveaways.
When else but the scramble in which Rodgers sustained a concussion that knocked him out of this game and leaves his availability for next week at New England in peril, too. Rodgers didn't slide on his first scramble, either.
The Lions' middle linebacker, Levy, called off a blitz and stepped in front of Flynn's pass in the end zone to Driver for a critical interception with the Packers driving toward a 10-0 lead in the third quarter.
258: Total yards by the Packers, a season-low figure that came against the league's 21st-ranked defense. Their previous season low? Against Detroit in Week 4 (261 yards).
McCarthy, on losing Rodgers: "It's no excuse. It's no excuse at all. We played poor on offense today and that starts with me. We were poor and I'm not very pleased about it. They were in the backfield all day. We lost the battle up front. We had the two big turnovers, particularly in the first quarter, potential points on the board. Three points, that's not cutting it."
The Packers will still trail the Bears by one game in the NFC North, with New England rolling at Chicago 33-0 at halftime. The Bears will be 9-4, barring a big comeback, but they'll now have the advantage against division foes. Minnesota's game against the Giants was postponed until Monday here at Ford Field after the huge Midwest snowstorm tore the Metrodome roof.
The other things you might have missed
-- Along with Rodgers, starting left guard Daryn Colledge and starting outside linebacker Frank Zombo suffered knee injuries. Colledge, injured on Quarless' first-drive fumble, was replaced by Jason Spitz and then T.J. Lang because Spitz didn't play well. Zombo was replaced by Eric Walden for the fourth quarter. McCarthy wasn't sure on their severity.
-- McCarthy said Rodgers' head had cleared and only had a headache.
-- McCarthy, on the slow start even with Rodgers in the game: "I didn't like the way we started. They were playing faster than we were and there was no reason behind it. We had as many fans in the stands as ... so the atmosphere and everything. I didn't see any signs of this during the week of preparation. I thought the week of preparation was a good week. It wasn't a great week. But I thought they were definitely dialed in. I made a point of this type of game last night in the team meeting. That's what's frustrating to me, to come over here and the importance of a division game and to start the game the way we did. We need to quit having these types of lessons, particularly this late in the year."
-- It came down to more than the last play. The ball slipped out of Flynn's hand as he threw to Driver on the second-to-last play. And on a third-and-1 from near midfield on the first play of the fourth quarter, Flynn turned the wrong way on a running play and ate the ball for a 4-yard loss.
-- Flynn said he didn't see Levy on the interception.
-- The defense clearly played good enough to win the game. They held the Lions to 286 yards and 3-of-15 on third down, plus had two interceptions.
-- Tim Masthay enjoyed his final dome game of the season, with a 50.5-yard average on eight punts with a net of 43.4. He put three inside the 20-yard line with one touchback.
-- The Packers had won 10 straight in the series and the Lions had lost 19 in a row in division play.
-- Fans with tickets for this game will get free admission to Monday's Vikings-Giants game.
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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.