And they’ll need it.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers aggravated a calf injury but returned to the game to help the Packers beat the Detroit Lions 30-20 in Sunday’s NFC North Division championship at Lambeau Field. The win – Green Bay’s record 24th consecutive home victory against the Lions – gave the Packers their fourth consecutive NFC North championship and a coveted bye. Green Bay will enter the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the NFC, with defending-champion Seattle beating St. Louis to earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
Rodgers was injured while throwing a second-quarter touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. Rodgers, who hurt his left calf during the first quarter of last week’s win at Tampa Bay, scrambled to his right on first-and-goal from the 4. He appeared to re-injure the calf just before throwing the ball to Cobb in the end zone. A raucous Lambeau Field crowd quickly fell silent as the MVP candidate lied on the ground clutching his leg.
Matt Flynn took the final possession of the first half, a handoff to run out the clock, and the first possession of the second half, a three-and-out punt. With Green Bay’s punt unit on the field, Rodgers came out of the tunnel to a loud ovation, walked to the Packers’ sideline and started warming up.
In the meantime, Detroit drove 51 yards for the game-tying touchdown. Matthew Stafford converted a third-and-10 with a 12-yard completion to receiver Golden Tate and a fourth-and-1 with a sneak before throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to receiver Calvin Johnson.
Rodgers immediately worked his magic with two big completions to Cobb. The first was a 29-yarder to the Lions’ 19. The second came on third-and-4, a 13-yard touchdown strike as Cobb caught the ball at the 10 on a crossing route against cornerback Cassius Vaughn and leapt into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
The Packers forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and Rodgers drove the team into scoring possession. However, Detroit’s Isa Abdul-Quddus blocked Mason Crosby’s 52-yard field-goal attempt. But the Lions couldn’t take advantage of excellent field position, as Stafford and running back Joique Bell flubbed the handoff on the first play of the ensuing possession.
The Packers made the Lions pay. Rodgers fired a 6-yard pass to tight end Richard Rodgers against linebacker Tahir Whitehead to convert a third-and-4, and a 15-yard completion to receiver Jordy Nelson set up Rodgers’ 1-yard sneak to make it 28-14 with 8:45 remaining.
Stafford, facing a big rush from Datone Jones, was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, making it 30-14, but the Lions got the ball on the free kick. Stafford fired a 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Theo Riddick but, on review, Bell was deemed short of the goal line on the two-point play. That made it 30-20 with 1:45 to go and ended Detroit’s hopes.
Eddie Lacy rushed for 100 yards – the first individual 100-yard game against Detroit’s top-ranked run defense this season.
The Packers drew first blood. After a bumbling goal-line possession in which they couldn’t punch it in on five snaps from the 1- or 2-yard line, Micah Hyde returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown. He broke a tackle by Jed Collins and got big blocks from Brad Jones, Demetri Goodson and HaHa Clinton-Dix.
The Lions, who entered the game ranked second in the league in points allowed, and the Packers, coming off their best defensive performance in 2006, engaged in a defensive slugfest for most of the first half.
Green Bay ran the ball right down the throat of Detroit’s top-ranked run defense on the opening drive, with Lacy running for 22, 5 and 8 yards on the first three plays and James Starks running for 21 on the next to the Detroit 7. On third-and-goal from the 2, Lions safety James Ihedigbo was flagged for pass interference, but the Packers couldn’t punch it in on four plays from the 1. Lacy was on the field for only one play, the fourth-down run in which he was stuffed for no gain by Ziggy Ansah.
The Packers had a fourth-down stand, as well. Ihedigbo avenged his penalty by stripping Lacy and Detroit drove into scoring position, but Stafford threw incomplete on fourth-and-10 from Green Bay’s 29.
After Rodgers’ touchdown to Cobb gave the Packers a 14-0 lead, Stafford led a critical two-minute drill. On third-and-13, Stafford’s pass was deflected by linebacker Brad Jones but Jones clipped the side of Stafford’s helmet. The 15-yard penalty set up Stafford’s 20-yard bullet to Johnson for a touchdown with 24 seconds left in the half.
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