"I 'm proud of the guys," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "I thought there were a lot of things in the ball game that didn't go our way early, that this time of year a team that's not in the playoffs, we've all seen that happen where they just kind of let it happen and they didn't. We talked about before we took the field, our priority was they were a bunch of fighters, I knew they were going to fight tonight."
The Packers fell behind 13-3 in the first quarter amid an array of mistakes. But Green Bay got a boost again from rookie running back Samkon Gado, who finished with a Packers rookie record of 171 yards rushing on 29 carries (5.9-yard avg. per carry), including a 64-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter. He also caught one pass for nine yards.
"I thought he played a hell of a game," said quarterback Brett Favre, who did not throw a touchdown pass for the second straight game. "I thought he played great last week, too. When guys get the opportunity, like a Sam Gado, some take advantage of it, some don't. I think he's making the most of his opportunity. He just had an outstanding game."
Gado and the Packers finished with 181 yards rushing, by far their best performance of the season. The rushing attack helped overcome a Favre fumble early in the game that led to a Lions field goal and a passing game that was shaky. The cold, 14-degree weather (5-degree wind chill) didn't help either quarterback pass. Plus, Favre was playing with a bruised right hand and arm from the beating he took last Sunday in a loss to the Chicago Bears.
"Records aside, they are a better football team than what their record indicates," Lions quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "They have playmakers and they have a big time playmaker in number four and he seems to rise to the occasion in tight games like this. They made plays when they had to make plays and they found a way to get the win."
Longwell's 39-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter helped the Packers tie the game at 13-13. The 58-yard drive was sparked by Favre's 15-yard pass to fullback William Henderson combined with linebacker Wali Rainer's 15-yard facemask penalty on Henderson gave Green Bay the ball on the 31. Gado then broke loose for a 17-yard run around the right end to the Lions' 14.
Henderson had four catches for 38 yards, including an eight-yard gain on third-and-seven to keep Green Bay's drive alive in overtime. Gado's four-yard run combined with defensive tackle Shaun Rogers' personal foul for shoving Gado while he was well out of bounds gave the Packers the ball on the Lions' 35. Favre's 17-yard pass to wide receiver Robert Ferguson to the 18 put the Packers in field goal range to set up Longwell's game-winning field goal.
"Going into the closed (north) end zone, the max distance was 43 yards," Longwell said. "The wind was tough. You could tell with the punts and the kickoffs, the wind was tough that way. The other way we were going 48. We were within range, obviously."
Green Bay's defense had three impressive goal line stands during regulation, including one midway through the fourth quarter. The Packers held running back Artose Pinner out of the end zone three straight times from the 1, then stopped Garcia on a sneak on fourth down.
"They were running right at us and we just stuffed it," nose tackle Grady Jackson said. "We had to go out there and toughen up on fourth and inches. We played great in our stance down low and got off the ball to make the play. That's the play you are looking for. You have to look for that, because if they get in there, they are going to make you look bad. We wanted to look good. That's what people look for in a run-stopping nose tackle." With their backs against the wall, Gado was caught in the end zone for what appeared to be a safety. But the rookie threw the ball forward as he was getting tackled, which referee Mike Carey initially ruled intentional grounding and a safety for Detroit. But upon further review, the officials ruled that because Gado had not reached the line of scrimmage, which was the half-yard line, he threw an incomplete pass. Tackle Mark Tauscher was penalized for holding on the play, but the officials ruled that the penalty was at the line of scrimmage. If Tauscher was in the end zone, the Lions would have been awarded a safety. The Packers moved to the 31 before they were forced to punt, but dodged a bullet.
Gado humbly explained that he "just reacted" on the play, not realizing that he was attempting a pass.
Both teams, which struggled on offense throughout the ice cold evening, traded possessions in the final three minutes. Favre winged a Hail Mary at the end of regulation that was intercepted by cornerback Dre Bly, but Bly was stopped well short of the end zone on his return.
Gado's 64-yard touchdown run was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise poorly played first half by the Packers. Favre fumbled the ball away on the offense's second play; special teams gave up a 73-yard kickoff return and allowed Detroit to block a field goal attempt; and the defense gave up two big plays during Detroit's first drive of the game that led to a field goal. But the Packers only trailed by three points at the intermission thanks to Gado who rushed for 103 yards on 12 attempts in the first two quarters.
"Samkon (Gado) has improved week, by week, by week and I think he's beginning to prove he's not a one time wonder," Sherman said. "I think he's seeing things better and it's an acquired learning process. Certainly, he hasn't played a lot of football necessarily, but I think he's improving. He's certainly not the finished product just yet, but he certainly made a statement today."
Gado's sixth touchdown of the season, a Packers' rookie record, with 4:56 left in the second quarter closed the Packers to 13-10. It also helped avert a Packers drive that consumed more than half of the second quarter that ended when the Lions' Jared DeVries blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt by Longwell. It was the first blocked field goal attempt by a Packers opponent since Oct. 7, 2002 when Chicago's Marc Columbo blocked a Longwell field goal attempt during a Monday night game in Champaign, Ill.
R.W. McQuarter's 73-yard kickoff return to Green Bay's 16 set up Garcia's four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Roy Williams as the Lions took a 13-3 first-quarter lead. Williams bobbled the pass along the left sideline, but was able to get both feet inbounds before falling to the ground. The Packers challenged the play, but it was upheld upon further review.
The Lions ripped off two big plays on the opening drive of the game and took a 3-0 lead on Jason Hanson's 19-yard field goal. Garcia hooked up with wide receiver Scottie Vines on a crossing route for a 22-yard gain to the 50. On the next play, running back Kevin Jones cut back to the right side and ran 40 yards to the Packers' 10. But Green Bay's defense held the Lions on three consecutive running plays to force the field goal attempt.
Favre fumbled the ball away while dropping back to pass on Green Bay's second play from scrimmage, and Detroit linebacker James Davis pounced on the loose ball at the 18. Green Bay's defense again held the Lions out of the end zone and forced Detroit to settle for Hanson's 23-yard field goal as Detroit took a 6-0 lead.
"You're talking taking points off the board," Sherman said. "Anytime you can trade seven for three (points), you're won in my mind."
Green Bay answered by moving 47 yards on nine plays, and closed to 6-3 on Longwell's 36-yard field goal. Favre's 11-yard pass play on third-and-two to Ferguson followed by his nine-yard pass to Gado got the Packers to the Lions 27. Favre passed for seven yards to Henderson on third down, but Henderson was stopped a yard short of a first down at the 18.