DETROIT – Aaron Rodgers said the Green Bay Packers could run the table.
And run it they did.
Rodgers and the Packers capped a remarkable 6-0 finish to the season by beating the Detroit Lions 31-24 for the NFC North championship on Sunday night. With that, the Packers (10-6) earned the No. 4 seed and a home game against the Giants (11-5) in next weekend’s playoffs. The game is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. Sunday.
“It wasn’t the best celebration we’ve ever had. Our guys are tapped out,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Night games are tough. You’re in the hotel all day. You’re playing in a dome on the road. It took a lot out of us. We had a lot of guys who played a lot of reps because of the number of players we lost. It’ll be a quick ride home – we’ll enjoy that – but we have bigger aspirations. This is the first step. This is the threshold of getting into the playoffs, getting into this tournament.”
Rodgers was a virtuoso 27-of-39 for 300 yards and four touchdowns. During the Packers’ season-ending winning streak, he threw 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His final touchdown pass, a 9-yarder to Davante Adams to clinch the victory, was his 40th of the season. Micah Hyde’s end-zone interception was the final nail of the coffin. Most of the fans left at that point, which allowed the Packers fans in attendance to serenade the team with a "Go Pack Go" chant.
Trailing 14-10 at halftime, the Packers drove to the go-ahead touchdown to open the second half. Green Bay’s receivers, who were silenced in the first half, went to work. Rodgers hit them for six completions, including a 3-yarder to Adams for the touchdown. Completions of 20 and 16 yards to Jordy Nelson set up the scoring play.
Rodgers and his receivers struck again with an 81-yard touchdown drive to open the fourth quarter. On the second play, Rodgers threw a bullet to undrafted rookie Geronimo Allison for a gain of 31. Finally, on third-and-9 from the 10, Rodgers bought himself an eternity for his receivers to work free. Finally, it was Allison, who made a diving catch in the end zone against linebacker Tahir Whitehead. Mason Crosby missed the extra point but it was 23-14 with 10:02 remaining.
The Packers needed every point they could get because of their depleted secondary. Damarious Randall was sidelined with a knee injury, Quinten Rollins was hospitalized with a neck injury and even rookie Makinton Dorleant departed with a knee injury. When safety Morgan Burnett lined up at linebacker, that left LaDarius Gunter and Micah Hyde on the outside, rookie safety Kentrell Brice playing the slot and rookie Marwin Evans playing safety.
Still, the Packers held firm. Detroit moved into scoring position after the Allison touchdown but Gunter broke up a second-down pass and Nick Perry and Julius Peppers pressured Matthew Stafford into a third-down incompletion. Matt Prater’s 54-yard field goal cut the margin to 23-17 with 7:42 remaining.
Rodgers then finished the job. On an early third-and-1, he faked the handoff to running back Ty Montgomery and ran around left end for a gain of 13. His second touchdown to Adams, a fade over Nevin Lawson, wrapped up and the game and the championship.
The Lions (9-7), who have lost three in a row, will play at Seattle (10-5-1) on Saturday.
“Obviously, just didn’t play well enough to get the win tonight,” said Stafford, who threw for 347 yards and two touchdowns, including a Hail Mary in the final moments to make it a one-touchdown game. “Everybody understands that, but excited about what’s ahead. We got in. We’re one of 12 teams that earned a spot in this things and it’s a brand-new season.”
The Packers had punched their playoff ticket before kickoff, with former Packers assistant Ben McAdoo leading his Giants to an upset win at Washington. That clinched Green Bay’s eighth consecutive playoff berth for coach Mike McCarthy, a feat matched only by Bill Belichick, Tom Landry and Chuck Noll.
The Lions mounted the first big drive at the end of the first quarter but usually reliable Prater missed from 39 yards on the first play of the second quarter.
The Packers took advantage on a scoring drive that Rodgers punctuated with a 7-yard touchdown pass to fullback Aaron Ripkowski. The key play came on third-and-7. The Lions’ top rusher, Ezekiel Ansah, had Rodgers lined up a sack but Rodgers ducked underneath and fired to tight end Jared Cook for a first down. Rodgers then hit Cook for a catch-and-run gain of 24 and fellow tight end Richard Rodgers twice for a gain of 20.
Detroit answered quickly for the tying touchdown. The key play came on third-and-15, with Stafford hitting little-used receiver T.J. Jones for a gain of 35 on a deep pass over Quinten Rollins. On third-and-goal from the 1, Zach Zenner blew through the left side of the defense for the score.
The Lions took a 14-7 lead just before halftime on Stafford’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. Green Bay almost had the one-touchdown lead, though, as linebacker Clay Matthews dropped a pick-six. Matthews lined up at right outside linebacker, then circled into coverage to his left but dropped the ball at the left hashmarks. On the touchdown, veteran receiver Anquan Boldin, who had catches of 11 and 10 yards on the drive, picked cornerback Damarious Randall, freeing up Tate for an easy score with 23 seconds remaining.
Green Bay pulled within 14-10 at the half on Mason Crosby’s 53-yard field goal. A 39-yard pass to receiver Geronimo Allison set up the score.
The Lions had a 248-184 edge in yards. Making matters worse, Green Bay was guilty of six penalties.
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.