DETROIT – For most of Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers’ offense – and perhaps their season -- appeared to be a lost cause.
And then it wasn’t.
Given an untimed down on a facemask penalty when Devin Taylor tackled Aaron Rodgers on a series of failed laterals as time expired, Rodgers’ Hail Mary was caught by Richard Rodgers for a 61-yard touchdown and a stunning 27-23 victory. The Packers’ bench stormed the field to celebrate the most unlikely of victories. In the press box, general manager Ted Thompson, team President Mark Murphy and other Packers personnel high-fived in disbelief.
"I couldn’t breathe down there," Richard Rodgers said. "I thought I was going to die for a second. Randall (Cobb) was the first one on top of me, and then I just felt a bunch of weight come down and I knew the whole team was over there. That was pretty crazy."
On the final play, Aaron Rodgers raced to his right to escape pressure, getting a block from right tackle Don Barclay to give him time. Rodgers’ bomb into a mass of players was caught by Richard Rodgers, as the Packers snared victory from the jaws of defeat. The ball traveled about 70 yards in the air. The play was designed to go to Davante Adams but Rodgers was left totally uncovered as he crossed the goal line and made the catch. Messing around before the game, Aaron Rodgers threw a few "moonballs" to Richard Rodgers. Who would have thought that practice would make perfect at the end of the game?
"We were dead," left tackle David Bakhtiari said. "Luck works in really ways. I’m just happy it was on our side today. That’s just unbelievable. From throw to catch to unbelievable scenarios happening in between it, I’m at a loss for words, man. I’m just happy to be a part of it."
Instead of being 7-5 and losers of five out of their last six games, the Packers improved to 8-4. Now, they get a mini-bye as a reward before facing Dallas at Lambeau Field next Sunday.
"Well, unfortunately, it counts as one win. It feels like more and I think we all feel that way," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
They scored 27 points in the second half against a Detroit team that had allowed 14.3 per game during a three-game winning streak.
"Man, I'm still in shock," Lions receiver Golden Tate said. "I really don't know how to feel about what just happened."
Green Bay trailed 20-0 in the third quarter but pulled within 23-21 and had the Lions facing a third-and-12 with just more than 2 minutes left. Matthew Stafford, however, hit T.J. Jones for a gain of 29 against rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins. That allowed the Lions to run the clock all the way down to 30 seconds when Sam Martin punted. Green Bay took over at its 21 with 23 seconds to go but got a miracle finish for the fourth-largest comeback in franchise history.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy looked like a man desperate for someone – anyone – to make a play on offense. Receiver Jared Abbrederis, who had missed the last two games and had four career catches, played most of the first quarter. Rookie running back John Crockett, who had been on the practice squad until just hours before kickoff, started the third quarter.
While it’s true the Packers started the game with the right side of their offensive line on the inactive list, with center Corey Linsley joining them on the sideline in the second quarter and left tackle David Bakhtiari leaving briefly in the fourth quarter, that’s just excuse making. Green Bay’s offense has ranged from bad to mediocre for weeks. On Thursday night, it was bad for most of 60 minutes.
Somehow, it was fitting that Green Bay’s first touchdown came on a fumble. Trailing 20-0 in the third quarter, James Starks gained 27 on a screen to make it first-and-goal at the 8. Starks got the ball again and was stripped around the 6 by safety Isa Abdul-Quddus. Randall Cobb pounced on the loose ball in the end zone for the score. That made it 20-7 with 5:44 remaining in the period.
Green Bay went from a faint pulse to alive and kicking. On Mason Crosby’s touchback, Green Bay’s kickoff team incited the fans – just as they do at Lambeau Field. Coincidentally or not, on first down, Julius Peppers roared around left tackle Riley Reiff for a sack-strip of Stafford, with Jake Ryan recovering at the Lions’ 12. On third-and-6, Rodgers hit Davante Adams, who ran a stutter-and-go against linebacker Josh Bynes for an 8-yard touchdown that made it 20-14.
The Packers got the ball back with it still a one-score game but Crockett lost 4 after almost fumbling the exchange, Adams couldn’t catch a crossing route and, with Bakhtiari out and Josh Walker in at left tackle, Ziggy Ansah ran an inside stunt that Walker failed to pick up for a sack.
Detroit’s offense then made two huge plays. First, aided by Peppers’ offside penalty on a third-and-13 incomplete pass, Stafford hit Tate for 4 yards on fourth-and-2. Then, on third-and-9, Stafford avoided a sack by Micah Hyde and ran for 10. That set up Matt Prater’s 42-yard field goal with 7:06 left that made it 23-14. Almost as important, the drive took 6:29 off the clock.
On a do-or-die drive, Green Bay converted a fourth-and-1 with a quick pass that Cobb turned into a gain of 16. Catch-and-runs 26 and 11 yards by tight end Richard Rodgers moved the ball to the Lions’ 16. On third-and-11, Rodgers escaped to his left and impressively won a race to the end zone against Ansah for a 17-yard score. That made it 23-21 with 3:04 remaining.
The first half was nothing short of a disaster. Green Bay trailed 17-0, was outgained 151-78, went 0-for-6 on third down and managed 16 yards on 15 running plays.
The Lions, who won the toss and deferred, struck first on Matt Prater’s 51-yard field goal. Green Bay’s next drive was ruined by a 15-yard facemask penalty on guard Josh Sitton, who was out front on a 32-yard screen to Starks. After the three-and-out punt, Detroit motored 76 yards to make it 10-0, with Stafford hitting tight end Eric Ebron for a 3-yard touchdown on third-and-2. Ebron was wide open; McCarthy knew trouble was brewing and ran onto the field asking for a timeout but didn’t get it. Before the touchdown, Stafford hit Golden Tate for 12 on third-and-5 and Ameer Abdullah sprinted for 32 yards to the 11, bursting through a huge hole on the right and then making safety Morgan Burnett look foolish by slowing and then accelerating around the 25-yard line.
On the next drive, Eddie Lacy almost fumbled on first down. On second down, Rodgers moved to his right and fired over the middle to James Jones. The pass was high and went through Jones’ hands and was intercepted by Glover Quinn, who returned it 24 yards to the 17. On the first play, Stafford hit Calvin Johnson for a touchdown over cornerback Sam Shields. It was a remarkable catch by Johnson, who drug his second foot inbounds while controlling the ball with only one hand. Just like that, it was 17-0 with 1:02 to play in the first quarter.
For the Packers, who were scoring 19.3 points per game during their 1-4 swoon and were without right guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, they couldn’t afford to miss any scoring opportunities. And yet they did on the next drive. Rodgers hit Richard Rodgers for gains of 15 and 19 yards to get into scoring position. However, Devin Taylor got a one-handed sack by beating right tackle Don Barclay on third-and-6, and Mason Crosby – who flubbed the potential game-winner vs. Detroit on Nov. 15 – hit the left upright from 41 yards.
Finally, Green Bay’s defense stiffened with four consecutive three-and-outs. It didn’t matter:
Possession 1: Starks dripped over center Corey Linsley on second down and Taylor again beat Barclay for a third-down sack.
Possession 2: The Packers moved the ball to midfield on a pair of passes to Cobb but Linsley, who had missed most of the past two games with an ankle injury, exited with an ankle injury on the second of the passes to Cobb. That meant three backup linemen were in the game, and the Lions immediately challenged them with a seven-man rush. J.C. Tretter was flagged for holding as Rodgers ran for his life to doom that drive.
Possession 3: On third-and-1, Starks had to fight just to get back to the line of scrimmage. It was their second third-and-1 failure of the half.
Possession 4: Rodgers took a knee to mercifully the end the first half for the impotent Packers offense.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.