GREEN BAY – Everyone’s gonna have to hang on ’til the end in this one.
Sunday night’s NFC North title game between the Packers and Lions at Ford Field will in all likelihood come down to some late-game drama. It almost seems inevitable.
The last three winner-take-all division showdowns in the North have gone like that, starting with fourth-and-8 from the 48 at Soldier Field in the final minute in 2013. Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb, forever in Green Bay lore.
The following year, the Lions appeared to seize the momentum in the fourth quarter with a blocked field goal, only to give it back with a fumbled snap that helped pave the way to the Packers’ victory.
Then last year, the Vikings intercepted Rodgers in the end zone with two minutes left to preserve their seven-point victory and end Green Bay’s four-year reign atop the division.
It’s hard to imagine a fourth straight Week 17 division-title tilt not coming down to the fourth quarter again.
“It’s about as close as you can get to a playoff game without it being one, but they’re the fun ones to play in,” Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said this week. “They’re the ones you remember. We won’t ever forget when we were down in Chicago a few years ago.”
The most recent history of the Packers-Lions series foretells more of the same.
Last year, as Detroit broke a quarter-century victory drought on Wisconsin soil, Green Bay recovered an onside kick with 30 seconds left, only to miss a field-goal attempt on the final play of a two-point loss.
The rematch in Detroit, of course, ended with the most famous untimed down in Packers history.
“That was a great memory we’ll take with us for years,” Rodgers said, “but hopefully we’re going to make some more on Sunday.”
As if any more evidence were needed for a pending down-to-the-wire finish, Detroit’s 2016 season speaks to it. Eight of the Lions’ nine wins this season have come when trailing in the fourth quarter, including six times at Ford Field.
QB Matthew Stafford has set an NFL record for fourth-quarter comebacks in one season, and he’s made his entire team confident that it’s never out of a game, no matter how little time might remain.
“You have to look at the makeup of the guys we have,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. “They’re guys with a lot of great character that work extremely hard. They don’t shy away from the moment at the end of the game.
“It’s the fact that our quarterback is comfortable in those situations. He certainly does not flinch.”
The Packers saw that first-hand when Stafford brought the Lions back from a 31-3 deficit to get within 34-27 in Week 3 at Lambeau Field.
A mantra of this Mike McCarthy Packers team all season has been “pursuit and finish.” Green Bay has pursued this position, a chance for a division crown, with a five-game winning streak when any miscue might have doomed the season.
Now it’s time to finish, and the finish will definitely be needed against Detroit.
“It really shows the testament of their team,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “But it’s moreso about finishing games than knowing what they’ve done in the past.
“It should be a good one, but hopefully we can put it away.”