The Green Bay Packers' unlikely run to the playoffs took another unlikely turn on Sunday night.
Naturally, the Packers beat the Lions because, hey, that's what the Packers do when Detroit comes to town.
It's how they did it that is remarkable. With Aaron Rodgers held in check by Mother Nature, and Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Jordy Nelson in street clothes, the Packers turned to Daniels and DuJuan Harris.
You had those guys on your fantasy football team, right?
Daniels, a rookie defensive lineman, made what might wind up being the play of the season with his game-changing fumble recovery and 43-yard return for a touchdown. Harris, who at 5-foot-8 is as out of place in the Packers' stable of big running backs as Daniels would be in the jockeys' room at Churchill Downs, rocketed 14 yards for the winning touchdown run.
"You wouldn't quite expect those guys," Rodgers said. "‘Scrappy' with the big play there on that fumble recovery and touchdown. That's his nickname. I'm not sure if it's self-appointed. He looked pretty athletic on that play. Then DuJuan, we've kind of been talking a lot about it in practice. Started off the game, he had a big-time run, explosive runs for us, ran a guy over and gave him a couple other opportunities and he made the most of them."
Daniels was a lightly recruited running back in high school before Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz figured he could build him into a defensive lineman. That athletic ability and balance showed as he beat Lions tackle Gosder Cherilus to the ball, kept his balance while being shoved and ran for a touchdown that turned the tide with the Packers in deep trouble with a 14-3 deficit.
"Did I look fast out there?" Daniels joked.
Turning serious, it's easy to see why the Packers think so highly of their fourth-round pick.
"I just wanted to show people that I can actually run," Daniels said. "I know when I first got here, I was hurt and guys were thinking, ‘Man, this dude we drafted in the fourth round can't even practice. What a waste.' I'm just trying to gain my respect, earn my respect, not just on this team but amongst the nation."
That injury – a torn labrum that didn't prevent Daniels from getting a couple sacks in Iowa's bowl game but did result in surgery that slowed his development – is ancient history. Still, it weighs on Daniels, which speaks volumes to his drive and tenacity.
"Heck, yeah, it's a big deal, and that's something I'm going to carry with me through my career," he said. "I'm trying to make sure I gain respect and make these guys around the league respect me."
It's the same story for Harris, who went undrafted out of Troy in 2011 and carried the ball nine times for Jacksonville as a rookie last year after spending the first 11 games on the practice squad. Harris was cut by the Jaguars and the Steelers this summer, and was out of work until the Packers signed him to the practice squad on Oct. 24.
At the time, it appeared Harris was in town only to fill a role at practice, with upcoming games against Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling and New York's Ahmad Bradshaw – three players with similar short-but-powerful frames. Instead, with injuries to James Starks and Johnny White, the Packers added Harris to the active roster on Dec. 1.
On the Packers' first play from scrimmage on Sunday night, Harris blasted through a hole and blasted safety Ricardo Silva for an 11-yard gain. Then, in the fourth quarter, Harris exploded through a hole created by Josh Sitton, Don Barclay and a pulling Evan Dietrich-Smith for the go-ahead touchdown.
"DuJuan's a guy who hustles. You see that when he's on the scout team," Daniels said. "You go to the practices so you know. Watch how he runs that ball. A lot of the veteran guys in our room are saying, ‘That boy needs to play.' You can see why tonight. The Lions, they're a tough defense. Their record does not reflect the way that they play. Their D-line has some studs. You see the way DuJuan ran the ball is really a testament to how hard he works at practice and in the weight room."
Harris is a change-of-pace back and an anomaly in a position group that includes Alex Green (6-0, 225), James Starks (6¬-2, 218), Ryan Grant (6-1, 222) and the injured duo of Cedric Benson (5-11, 227) and Brandon Saine (5-11, 220).
Rodgers pointed to Harris' "unique agility" and coach Mike McCarthy cited Harris' "unique skill-set."
"Unique" is a good word for a team that's 5-1 without Woodson and 3-1 without Matthews and went 5-2 without Greg Jennings.
"You've just got to be patient," Harris said. "Good things happen when you're going to be patient. That's all I was doing, is being patient. I was doing everything I could to help out the team. Being a practice-squad guy, I was helping the team out. Whenever they moved me up, I looked it as a blessing and an opportunity. So, whenever they called my number, I was ready."
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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.