Hail Mary: Aaron Rodgers Makes the Pass

After a big second-half comeback, all looked lost for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers when they got the ball for their final possession.

DETROIT – For three hours and 15 minutes, Aaron Rodgers experienced mostly frustration.

And then, in the span of about four-and-a-half seconds, it was unspeakable exhilaration.

Rodgers’ 61-yard Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers gave the Green Bay Packers an improbable 27-23 victory over the Detroit Lions on Thursday night.

“This one, obviously, ranks up there as one of the greatest joys on the field that we’ve had together as a team and personally,” Aaron Rodgers said.

When Rodgers walked on the field for their first possession of the second half, they were staring at a 20-0 deficit. They had 78 yards and no third-down conversions and had reached the Lions’ side of the field just once.

Then came an improbable comeback for a Packers’ offense that had suffered through the insult of several poor performances and the injury of three of its starting linemen.

Still, all looked lost. Rodgers’ 17-yard touchdown run had brought the Packers within 23-21 with 3 minutes to go, but the Lions converted a third-and-12 to burn away most of the time. The Packers took possession at their 21 with 23 seconds to go. Deep incompletions to Randall Cobb and Jared Abbrederis left just 6 seconds on clock. Rodgers’ pass was caught by James Jones, who lateraled to Richard Rodgers who lateraled to Aaron Rodgers, who was tackled by Devin Taylor at the 23-yard line. Taylor, however, was flagged for a facemask, giving the Packers an untimed down from Detroit’s 39. Wide receivers Abbrederis, Davante Adams, Cobb and Jones were joined by tight end Richard Rodgers.

“I knew I was going to have to buy some time,” Aaron Rodgers said. “They rushed three guys. In that situation, a lot of times we practice it from like the 50 or maybe the 45. I knew we were around the 40. I knew I was going to have to buy some time to allow them to get in the end zone. I felt good about throwing it in the end zone from the 40, so I was just kind of looking at the rush and moving around. The guys did a good job of holding their blocks, and I knew once I got outside the right, I was going to be able to set up and throw. It was just about finding the 40 and stopping before that, and putting enough height for my guys to get in the end zone. I was looking at Davante after I threw it, and I was pretty excited to see Richard jump in there and catch it.”

Rodgers said there wasn’t any discussion before the final play. Only a bit of confusion.

“My guys had just run three vertical routes,” he said. “They were exhausted. We were trying to line up again, guys were a little confused because we hadn’t run that play out of our four receivers and a tight end set. Usually we have a back in there that kind of helps block, so to my surprise, as I got back in the shotgun, I see Davante going in motion. So, I was looking at the play clock to make sure we got it off in time and, as we snapped it, I was just trying to find a space to throw it. I knew the 30 was kind of stretching it, so I knew if I could get some space and get closer to the 40, that I was going to be able to get it to the end zone.”

While the Packers might not have practiced a Hail Mary with that personnel group, they sort of practiced the play before the game.

“In the pre-pregame warmups, I was out there messing around and I threw kind of some moonballs to Richard as high as I could,” Rodgers said. “Not 60 yards in the air, but kind of some moonballs to him. He caught two out of three, so I’m glad he made it three out of four.”

The touchdown provided a happy ending for the Packers, who had lost four of their last five, and for Rodgers, who turned 32 on Wednesday and had just suffered through the worst statistical month of his brilliant career. This present will live forever on his list of career memories.

“Chicago, coming back from the collarbone (in 2013) and hitting Randall on that fourth down is pretty special,” Rodgers said. “This one’s going right to the top, right below the feeling when the ball hit the ground on fourth down there in the Super Bowl.”

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.

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