GREEN BAY—No Cedric Benson. No James Starks. No problem for the running game, apparently.
The Packers turned to the ground with the game on the line Sunday night, running the ball seven straight times for all 59 yards of the go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter of their 27-20 victory over the Lions at Lambeau Field.
“This was a good front seven to do that (against),” center Jeff Saturday said. “That’s a tough group. To have that kind of night when it matters, it was a good night.”
Reaching as deep as they ever have into their stable of backs, the Packers handed off to three different ball-carriers on the decisive drive – Alex Green, Ryan Grant and DuJuan Harris. The latter two just joined the active roster this month, and here they were contributing to a big NFC North win.
“That was a great drive,” said Harris, who finished off the ground assault with a 14-yard TD run up the middle to break a 17-all tie with 10:45 left. “They called everyone’s number and got positive yards.”
Green got it started with four carries for 27 yards, the third one a 10-yard burst on a draw play to convert third-and-2. After his fourth straight run, a 9-yarder, Green tapped himself out and in came Grant for his first action as a Packer since last season.
Signed this past Wednesday due to Starks’ knee injury, Grant got a nice cheer from the crowd and promptly sliced off left tackle for 13 yards. Grant said he didn’t hear the crowd when he jogged into the huddle because he was so focused on the next play, but veteran receiver Donald Driver told him about it on the sideline afterward.
“It was good to be a part of things and contribute,” Grant said. “I guess my average is pretty good right now.”
That’s because Grant immediately gave way to Harris, who blasted ahead for five yards before he got a great block from pulling guard Evan Dietrich-Smith that cleared a huge lane for his 14-yard score, Harris' first career TD.
A second-year back who appeared in five games for Jacksonville last season and then was signed to the Packers’ practice squad six weeks ago, Harris moved up to the active roster just eight days ago. He actually started Sunday night’s game and showed a great burst on a pitch around right end on the Packers’ first snap, gaining 11 yards.
Listed at 5-8 and 203 pounds, the quick-footed Harris certainly packs a punch when he runs. He finished with seven carries for 31 yards to complement Green’s 13 rushes for 69 (a career high). Add quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ 27-yard TD run on a scramble plus Grant’s 13-yarder on his lone carry, and the Packers piled up 140 rushing yards in all. That’s just shy of last week’s total of 152, 66 of which came from Starks, whose status is uncertain for the rest of 2012.
“We’ll see moving on to the future what the coaches want to do,” Green said. “We have three good running backs ready to run the ball and see if we can get this thing going.”
The Packers’ ability to stop the run helped turn the tide on the other side of the ball. The Lions had 24 carries for 117 yards in the first half, controlling the ball for more than 22 minutes through two quarters.
Detroit ran the ball just eight times for 18 yards in the second half, though, which changed down-and-distance situations in Green Bay’s favor. After picking up seven of their first eight third downs, the Lions converted only three of their next eight. The end result was just three Lions points in the second half until another field goal with just seven seconds left.
“Sometimes that happens – a team comes out on fire and they kind of did tonight, and I don’t think we matched their energy,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “But we eventually got it back.”
Defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said the defense took a collective deep breath at halftime and didn’t panic. He insisted Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers didn’t make any major adjustments, but the defense simply “shored it up.”
“He made a couple different calls,” Pickett said of Capers, “but it was more like we got used to what they were doing, figured it out, and shut it down.” Additional coverage - Packers vs. Lions