NFL Wire News

Packers-Lions: What we learned

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers earned a first-round postseason bye.

And they will need it.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers aggravated a calf injury and missed two series but returned to help the Packers beat the Detroit Lions 30-20 Sunday in the de facto NFC North championship game at Lambeau Field.

With their record 24th consecutive home victory over the Lions, the Packers (12-4) captured their fourth straight NFC North title and a coveted bye. Green Bay will enter the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the NFC, with the defending champion Seattle Seahawks beating the St. Louis Rams on Sunday to earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

Rodgers completed 17-of-22 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. After some prodding of the medical staff, Rodgers re-entered the game.

“I was kind of battling to get back out there and it was kind of one battle at a time,” Rodgers said. “Battle to be able to get taped back up and see if you can do anything on the sidelines. Once you get out there, I felt pretty good on the sidelines, knew it was going to be kind of like last week, not being able to move a whole lot. But just felt like if I could get back in there it might give us a little jolt.”

Jolt, indeed, with the Packers scoring 16 consecutive points to break open a 14-14 game. Following the injury, he went 11-of-13 for 129 yards and a touchdown despite his obviously limited ability to move in the pocket.

“Aaron Rodgers, I don’t know what to say about him,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “The fact that he can come back out after the calf injury and to perform on a limited game plan and play at the level he continues to play at, that he played at, I thought was extraordinary. It was clearly an MVP performance, another MVP performance by Aaron Rodgers.”

The Lions (11-5) fell all the way to the No. 6 seed and play at the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys in a wild-card game next weekend.

“This game is behind us now,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “We made the playoffs, so to drop our heads about this one would be hazardous to our future. We earned a playoff berth before this game. Did we want this game? Did we want the division title? Yes, definitely, but we are in the playoffs and it is a new season now.”

First-year Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who in his first season tied the franchise record for wins, wants the team looking forward with a difficult challenge next week.

“I don’t think we need external motivation,” he said. “There is certainly some disappointment there and we can use that as fuel for our next opponent.”

Rodgers was injured while throwing a second-quarter touchdown pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb. Rodgers, who hurt his left calf during the first quarter of last week’s win at Tampa Bay, scrambled to his right on first-and-goal from the 4. He appeared to re-injure the calf just before throwing the ball to Cobb in the end zone for a 14-0 lead.

What the Lions said: “We just didn’t play as well as we are capable. You have to give a lot of credit to Green Bay, as well. They ran the ball well and did a tremendous job on third downs, also. They had some big plays in the kicking game. It was just the little things, as usual. The fumble (in the third quarter that led to a touchdown that made it 28-14) was a tough situation. We gave a very good football team a short field to work with.” — coach Jim Caldwell

“Glover (Quin) came up and smacked him and he kind of stumbled. I saw the ball away from his body so I just tried to punch it out as I was going in and I was able to get the ball out. George (Johnson) made a heck of a play hustling to get on top of it. That was a key play as they were driving.” — S James Ihedigbo, on striping Packers RB Eddie Lacy

What the Packers said: “I think it’s obvious. Aaron Rodgers is the leader of our football team. He’s in my opinion the Most Valuable Player in the National Football League this year. I think what he demonstrated tonight in a must-win game against an excellent opponent, I think it’s clear what he means to our football team.” — coach Mike McCarthy

“He’s just a tough son of a bitch. Like he said last week, it’s going to take a lot to keep him out of a game like this. To see him limping off the field and then to come back in the second half and just play lights out was pretty damn impressive. So anytime you get your leader back, your captain back, obviously it’s a big boost for the team. It was impressive to see him come back out there.” — G T.J. Lang, on Rodgers

What we learned about the Lions

1. The Lions played to form offensively. With quarterback Matthew Stafford, running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, and receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, the Lions have plenty of firepower. It just hasn’t translated into many fireworks. Detroit entered the game ranked No. 23 in scoring and managed only 20 points against Green Bay. Johnson and Tate combined for seven receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns but it took Stafford 16 throws in their direction. “They had our number today,” Johnson said. “They obviously did some good things. They created a turnover. They limited us on big plays.”

2. Stafford threw three touchdown passes, but in a league that is defined by the best teams having the best quarterback play, he simply has not been good enough this season. And now, for the Lions to get to the Super Bowl, he’ll have to lead the team to three consecutive road victories. “You watch every game and you can find ways where you can get better,” he said. “You want to continue to progress in certain areas. We are a battle-tested team. We have won 11 games this year. We found ways to win a lot of them and we will continue to do that. We are a mature football team. We understand what is at stake.”

— WR Golden Tate caught three passes for 45 yards, finishing the season one reception shy of 100 for the season. Fellow WR Calvin Johnson caught two touchdown passes. He finished with eight for the season despite going without one for seven consecutive games in the first half of the season (he played in four and was inactive in the other three).

— DT Ndamukong Suh stepped on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers during the fourth quarter. No flag was thrown but the Packers were irate that no penalty was called. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said, “Don’t think it was intentional. End of story.” The NFL, however, is certain to look into the incident. In 2011, Suh was ejected and suspended for two games for stomping on former Packers C Evan Dietrich-Smith in a 2011 game.

— C Dominic Raiola, sat out after being suspended for stepping on Chicago DL Ego Ferguson last week. Rookie Travis Swanson got the start for the Lions and earned praise from Packers DT Mike Daniels. “For him to be a rookie center, thrown into the fire at Lambeau Field and under the lights for a division title — the guy, I don’t think he snapped the ball all year in a game situation outside of preseason — so I think he came out and gave it everything he had. He’s a rookie. There’s a lot of room for improvement and compliments to him. He’s a tough player. He’s fundamentally sound. Like I said, he’s still a rookie with a lot of room for improvement, but considering the circumstances tonight, I think he did a pretty good job.”

What we learned about the Packers:

1. The Packers have a running game that gives them a good chance of reaching the Super Bowl. Against a defense that entered the game on pace to be the sixth-best run defense in NFL history in terms of yards per game, Packers RB Eddie Lacy rushed for 100 yards and the Packers ran for 152. “Honestly, I have no idea,” Lacy said about why the run game clicked. “It’s all about mindset, and our offensive line came out with that mindset and they created a lot of holes that I was able to run through and make the most of those opportunities.”

2. Green Bay’s defense isn’t too shabby, either. The Lions’ offense has plenty of big names but they were limited to 20 points. QB Matthew Stafford went 20-of-41 for 217 yards and three touchdowns but he was sacked twice and pressured frequently. Green Bay’s defense potentially faces a big test in the divisional round of the playoffs. If the seeding holds to form, then high-powered Dallas which is 8-0 on the road this season would be coming to Lambeau Field. “Frankly, our defense has been outstanding since the bye week,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

— QB Aaron Rodgers, who has not thrown an interception at home since Dec. 2, 2012, extended two NFL streaks. He has gone 418 consecutive passing attempts at home without an interception and has thrown 36 consecutive touchdown passes without a home interception. After a much-needed bye, he’ll get at least one more playoff game this season with a divisional game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 11. “I think that’ll be enough time (to heal),” he said.

— WR Jordy Nelson finished the season with 98 receptions for 1,519 receiving yards, with the latter figure establishing a franchise record (Robert Brooks, 1,497 yards, 1995). “It’s a group effort out there,” Nelson said. “The offensive line has done a great job. Obviously, getting the opportunity to play with Aaron (Rodgers) and the opportunity he gives us, it’s an honor to be a part of the history of the Packers.”

— RB Eddie Lacy rushed for 100 yards and was the only running back to hit that mark against Detroit’s top-ranked run defense this season. Lacy finished the season with 1,139 yards and, while he had only three 100-yard games, he had games of 97, 98 and 99 yards the previous four games.


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