But when the Packers needed to find their rhythm offensively at a crucial time in the game, that is just what they did as they responded with their finest drive of the afternoon to finish off a 28-26 victory over the division-rival Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
“We didn’t play very well on offense, put our defense in some tough spots,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “They were out on the field for a long time. We didn’t get into a rhythm, but when we had to had a drive, we took it down. John (Kuhn) ran the ball real well and we hit a couple of passes to close that thing out.”
With the offense’s first three second-half drives ending with an interception, a sack that capped off a three-and-out, and another interception, getting one first down on the final series seemed like a good starting point. The drive got off on the right foot, with running back John Kuhn taking it up the middle for a 7-yard gain on first down out to the 20. He followed that up with a 5-yard gain for a first down.
Rodgers connected with wide receiver Donald Driver on the right sideline on the next play for a 12-yard gain, Rodgers’ first completion since a 15-yard pass to wide receiver James Jones midway through the third quarter.
After running back Brandon Jackson was stuffed for a 3-yard loss on the following play, Rodgers scampered down the right sideline for a 16-yard gain for another first down. Then Kuhn picked up 6 and 5 yards, respectively, on a pair of carries to run the clock down to the two-minute warning.
“We knew once it got down to the two-minute warning, they had two timeouts so if we could force them to use those timeouts and get a first down, we knew the game would be over without even scoring a touchdown,” Kuhn said. “We were in tune with that and that was our goal.
“We wanted to keep the ball to save our defense a little bit. Our defense was on the field all day (Detroit held ball for 37:37 on the afternoon). We needed to pull our weight at the end there, and definitely at least rest our defense if not finish the game off.”
Following the timeout at the two-minute warning, Rodgers rolled out again, this time to his left, and appeared to have some room to pull the ball down and keep it on the ground again. Instead, he zipped a throw to tight end Donald Lee for a 15-yard gain to the Detroit 24 for another first down, forcing the Lions to use their second timeout.
Kuhn got the ball again on the next two plays, picking up 3 yards on the two carries, before the Lions used their final timeout to set up a third-and-7 at the 21 with 55 seconds remaining. Kuhn took the handoff on third down and bulled his way up the middle for an 8-yard gain, his longest run of the afternoon that couldn’t have come at a better time.
Kuhn registered 34 of his 39 rushing yards on the drive, and helped the offense record six of its nine second-half first downs on the series. The 6:32 drive was the longest possession of the afternoon, one that was reminiscent of the final drive last season in Week 12 against San Francisco that the Packers posted to run out the final 5:50 and finish off a 30-24 victory in a game they had led 30-10 early in the fourth quarter.
“We refer to it as a four-minute offense situation and that’s the toughest time in the game -- it should be -- to run the football,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “We lined up and it was real football. I can’t say enough about our run-blocking unit. I thought they hit their targets and John did an excellent job of making the right read and holding the ball for six-plus minutes.
“I thought the keep was a big play, to Donald Lee. I thought Aaron did an excellent job with the execution there. But to finish that game right there, I thought was a real statement for our offense. We had plenty of tough moments through the game, but to finish the game off like that is something we can build on.”