It was the imperfect ending to an imperfect season.
The Green Bay Packers, as has been the case for most of this disappointing season, bloodied themselves with a series of self-inflicted wounds. Fortunately on this chilly and blustery season-ending Sunday, they were playing the talent-deprived Detroit Lions.
The Packers, behind Aaron Rodgers' 71-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver midway through the fourth quarter, head into an earlier-than-expected offseason with a 31-21 victory over Detroit. With the loss, the Lions are the NFL's first team to finish a season 0-16. With the win, the Packers finish 6-10, snap a five-game losing streak and avoid the added dose of embarrassment of losing to Detroit.
"It's something that we can build off of," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We need to learn, and that's something we can definitely learn from. We've had some tough experiences of late."
The Lions dropped their 18th consecutive game in Wisconsin, and statistically speaking, this one was as lopsided as many of Detroit's other ill-fated treks to the Badger State. The Packers made NFL history by being the first team to have two 100-yard runners (Ryan Grant and DeShawn Wynn), two 100-yard receivers (Driver and Greg Jennings) and one 300-yard passer (Rodgers) in the same game, but thanks to their slippery hands, they kept this game far too close for comfort.
Green Bay snapped a 14-14 tie on a drive bridging the third and fourth quarters. The possession was jump-started by Grant's 21-yard run – which had been an 80-yard touchdown until a replay review – and a couple of key passes from Rodgers to James Jones. Mason Crosby's 36-yard field goal put the Packers in front with 13:34 remaining.
The Packers' defense, which so often has coughed up leads in the fourth quarter, got a three-and-out when Detroit's awful starting quarterback, Dan Orlovsky, threw horrible passes on second and third downs.
Given good field position on Will Blackmon's return of a short, wind-killed punt, the Packers mounted the kind of game-sealing touchdown drive that had proven so elusive. Green Bay marched 51 yards, punctuated by Rodgers' 5-yard touchdown pass to fullback John Kuhn that upped the margin to 24-14 with 8:34 to play.
So, of course, the Lions blew through the Packers' defense like a December wind. Barely 1 minute later, they had moved within 24-21. Al Harris allowed completions of 35 and 36 yards to John Standeford, and Kevin Smith ran it in from 9 yards by leaving linebacker Brandon Chillar in his wake.
Rodgers and Driver had the answer as the 70,141 in attendance shivered uneasily in their seats. Driver ran an out-and-up against cornerback Leigh Bodden. Bodden jumped on the out, Driver got loose behind him and Rodgers hit him in stride. Driver shook free from Bodden's diving tackle attempt and ran the final 30 yards for a touchdown and 31-21 lead.
"It was a great call," Rodgers said. "I just told (coach) Mike (McCarthy) I appreciate the call. It shows a lot of confidence in myself for him to call a play like that."
When Collins intercepted Orlovsky's desperation heave on fourth-and-29, the Packers had put the game away and salvaged at least something out of a season that ends miles away from a repeat trip to the NFC championship game.
"Winning is the goal," McCarthy said, "and any time you have an opportunity to win and beat a division opponents, those are all aspects of your program that you can point to and build off of. It's short term but it's definitely something positive you can point to."
The game almost turned on its ear when Grant fumbled before falling on his head at the Packers' 11-yard line early in the third quarter. The Lions cashed in the turnover with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, who slipped Nick Collins' tackle at the 9. Suddenly, even though the Packers were dominating statistically, it was 14-14.
The Packers moved into scoring position on the ensuing drive when Rodgers hit Jennings for 47 yards, but the possession stalled when four consecutive passes didn't gain a single yard.
The Packers led 14-7 at halftime, and in a familiar storyline, they frittered away a few opportunities to seize control against a team that wasn't playing with the urgency of a group trying to avoid NFL infamy.
Moments after Jordy Nelson returned the opening kickoff 45 yards to the Lions' 41-yard line, Rodgers pump-faked on a screen and watched the slick ball slip out of his throwing hand. The 24-yard loss doomed the drive.
Green Bay overcame the first of three first-half drops by Jennings to take a 7-0 lead barely 6 minutes into the game. On third-and-4 out of the shotgun, Rodgers tossed the ball to Wynn. Wynn got two blocks by right tackle Daryn Colledge and escorts by Driver and Jennings for a 73-yard touchdown. It was Green Bay's longest run of the season.
The Packers went three-and-out on their next possession. Jennings dropped a deep ball that would have advanced the ball past the Lions' 40, and Ruvell Martin dropped a pass on third down.
An interception by Charles Woodson set up a 41-yard scoring drive that was capped by Rodgers' 3-yard touchdown pass to Jermichael Finley to give Green Bay a 14-0 edge.
After Detroit took advantage of an unnecessary-roughness flag on Harris and converted three third downs for the answering touchdown, the Packers let two scoring opportunities slip away. On the first, Finley couldn't haul in a perfect deep ball against Dexter Wynn on third-and-3 pass inside the Lions' 15-yard line. On the second, the brakes were put on by Josh Sitton's holding penalty.
Bill Huber is the publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Packers avoid infamy, win finale vs. Lions
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