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Rodgers leads Packers to big showdown

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers went over the top as a way of saying “thanks” to some of the teammates who mean a great deal to him.

The Green Bay Packers’ locker room at Lambeau Field resembled an electronics showroom Wednesday. Boxes containing big-screen TVs measuring 55 inches sat in the locker stalls of the team’s offensive linemen and also Rodgers’ understudies at quarterback, Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien.

“Aaron Claus,” a grateful left tackle David Bakhtiari uttered.

“That’s just his characteristic, a characteristic of who he is,” astonished rookie center Corey Linsley said. “It’s not that I expected that by any means, but when he does something like that, it’s like, ‘That’s Aaron. That’s who he is.'”

While Rodgers’ effusive giving ahead of Christmas struck an overjoyed chord among recipients, Green Bay will be counting on its leader to be in a greedy mood after the holiday.

The Packers’ home matchup with the Detroit Lions on Sunday isn’t an ordinary regular-season finale. At stake in the game is the NFC North title.

“There’s a lot on the line,” Rodgers said matter-of-factly. “It’s an opportunity to win our fourth straight division title, which would be pretty sweet. We get a chance for a bye (in the playoffs), which would be great to get some rest for all of us. A home playoff game is the most important thing — that’s what we play for every year — especially the way we’ve been playing at home.”

If the Packers are unable to maintain their unblemished record (7-0) at Lambeau this season, they face the unenviable task going into the playoffs right away next week.

A loss, or even a tie, against Detroit would lock up the first division title for the Lions since 1993. The Lions also are motivated to end a staggering 23-game losing streak to the Packers in Wisconsin — Detroit’s last road win against Green Bay was Dec. 15, 1991, at Lambeau.

Both teams come in with an 11-4 record, and the Packers must win Sunday to reign again in the NFC North. Green Bay lost 19-7 to the Lions in a miserable performance by the Rodgers-led offense at Detroit’s Ford Field on Sept. 21.

Receiver Randall Cobb called the 223 total yards for Green Bay, which remains a season low, “an embarrassment.”

The Packers must make amends in the rematch to avoid dropping to the No. 6 seed in the NFC and having to play every game in the postseason on the road. Rodgers knows engineering a favorable turnaround won’t be easy against the Lions’ second-ranked defense, which dares opponents to run the football.

“People have been trying to throw it on them … averaging close to 40 attempts passing the ball per game and in the mid-20s running it,” Rodgers said. “It’s tough to move the ball on this team because they’re so stout up front. You just know it’s going to be a game where you have to be very efficient throwing the ball and you have to look for those opportunities for extended plays in the run game and the pass game.”

The latter has been vital for Green Bay’s sixth-rated and potent offense for most of the season. However, Rodgers’ uncanny ability to break down defenses by extending plays with his mobility outside the pocket was rendered almost nonexistent after he strained his left calf early in Green Bay’s 20-3 win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday.

Rodgers played hurt for most of the game, and he isn’t out of the woods with the injury going into the showdown with the Lions. He practiced in limited fashion Tuesday and Wednesday, hoping the team’s two straight days off the field Thursday (because of Christmas) and Friday will benefit him by the weekend.

“Aaron was playing today,” coach Mike McCarthy said after Wednesday’s practice. “Obviously, he was listed (on the injury report) as limited. He did all of the pre-practice work, no-huddle, and then we had a segment there in practice where he was able to get some rehab done, and then he was back outside for the team stuff. He basically got done what he needed to get done today, and he’s getting better.”

With McCarthy adding that Rodgers did throw the ball around Wednesday, the Packers may need him to do plenty of that Sunday.

The Lions have been Scrooge-like throughout the season with their run defense, giving up an average of only 63.8 rushing yards per game to rank No. 1 in the league.

In the teams’ Week 3 encounter in the Motor City, Detroit limited the Packers to 76 rushing yards. Featured back Eddie Lacy managed only 36 yards on 11 carries, and he had a costly fumble that was returned for a touchdown early in the game.

“First and foremost, you have to stop the run,” said tackle Ndamukong Suh, the rugged anchor of Detroit’s robust defensive line. “Eddie Lacy is a dominant force, and I think when he’s rolling, he’s got their offense moving forward on the ground (and) that’s where you struggle. Then, you have a two-headed sword you have to deal with and then go from there.”

–This is the 169th regular-season meeting between the Packers and Lions. The Packers lead the series, 94-67-7. Thanks to a 19-7 victory at Detroit in Week 3 this season, the Lions have won back-to-back games over Green Bay for the first time since the 1998 and ’99 seasons. Since then, Green Bay has won 24 of 30 meetings with its NFC North rival. The Packers seek to extend their legendary winning streak of 23 games against Detroit in Wisconsin, which includes a 16-12 triumph in a wild-card playoff game in the 1994 season. The Lions’ last road win in the series was 21-17 at Lambeau Field on Dec. 15, 1991.


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