Last week at Minnesota, the Green Bay Packers had two chances to at least tie the game. Both drives ended with turnovers.
It was a different situation on Sunday against Detroit. And a different outcome. The Lions had just scored for the fourth time in their last five possessions, this time a 35-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones, to pull within 34-27. After the Packers took possession following the kickoff, there was 3:34 remaining on the clock. And the Lions had three timeouts in their pocket.
The Packers failed to make the clutch plays needed to at least force overtime against the Vikings. They made the clutch plays to run out the clock and beat the Lions.
First, it was third-and-8 with 3:32 remaining. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers received exemplary protection from a four-man rush but couldn’t find anyone top. Finally, Rodgers took matters into his own hands. He ran to the left, picked up a block from Jordy Nelson and slid to the turf with a gain of 11.
“I saw the backs of the defenders, which, even with my 5-flat 40, as Joe Callahan told me I was running, I’m thankful enough to get the first down there,” Rodgers said. “We had a good play called. It was kind of a switch-release in the back side and I just felt like it was a little risky throw to try and hit Jordy on that one. The line did a good job of blocking. I kind of moved to the left as things kind of collapsed and was looking back for Davante (Adams), who had the safety looked him up, and I saw just backs of defenders to the left and realized that I should be able to get the first down there, slide and keep the clock going.”
Then, after a 9-yard completion to Davante Adams, Eddie Lacy burst through the left side for a 9-yard gain and another first down. Rodgers took a knee on three consecutive plays to run out the final 2 minutes.
“It was huge. It was huge,” guard T.J. Lang said. “We tried to do it the series before, couldn’t get it done. Came out and kind of changed the approach a little bit. They were doing everything they could to stop the run. Aaron obviously had a huge scramble there. It’s a little bit frustrating. I think every lineman would like the chance to get up there and run eight, nine run plays, just gouge it down their throat and pick up the first downs to end the game that way, but obviously we were taking what they were giving us. It’s been a little bit of a negative for us in the past -- our four-minute offense -- and our ability to go out there and close it down and not put the pressure on our defense to go out there and make another stop (was critical).”
A hot start turned into a long second half for Green Bay’s short-handed defense. Playing without five key players, including its top pass rusher (Clay Matthews), top cornerback (Sam Shields) and veteran safety (Morgan Burnett), Detroit’s Matthew Stafford threw for 385 yards and led a comeback from a 31-3 deficit.
However, in the fourth quarter, the defense made two big stands. First, with Detroit having reached the Packers’ 28 early in the fourth quarter, Packers linebacker Nick Perry drew a holding penalty on Taylor Decker on second down and beat Decker for a sack on third down. That held the Lions to a field goal, which brought the margin to 34-20. On Detroit’s next series, rookie linebacker Kyler Fackrell beat Decker for a first-down sack and Perry ran down Stafford on third-and-19 for another sack.
“No pressure,” Perry said. “I mean, we all go out there to do one thing and that’s win our one-on-ones, win our battles up front. It doesn’t matter who is out there. Just show up and play ball. So I stepped up. I made big plays out there, but that doesn’t stop the show. We keep going regardless of who’s out there on the field.”
The clutch plays were huge for the injury-depleted Packers to avoid a 1-2 start. Coach Mike McCarthy cited the play of the nine first-year players on defense for contributing to the victory.
“I’m going to tell you exactly what I told the team last night,” McCarthy said. “This is about who’s playing, and injuries are unfortunate, it’s part of this business. You never want to see your players go through it. But we knew what the challenge was coming in here. We needed our veteran players to step up and we needed our younger players to step up and we had a combination of that today, and from that we’re a much better team right now than when we were when we woke up this morning. That’s how I feel about it.”
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.