DETROIT – The Packers are back atop their perch in the NFC North.
For the fifth time in six years, Green Bay claimed the NFC North title, and for the eighth straight year, the Packers are headed to the playoffs.
Sunday night’s 31-24 victory at Ford Field in Detroit made sure of both, but it wasn’t easy. Just as they have all season long, these Packers persevered and are now entering the postseason on a six-game winning streak.
“That was a fun win there,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the Packers improved to 10-6. “I just want to tell you how proud I am of my football team. I think today was a great picture inside of what it’s been like all year. Resiliency, time and time again.”
The Packers knew before kickoff they had made the playoffs by virtue of the Giants’ victory over the Redskins, and now it’s that same Giants team that will come to Lambeau Field next Sunday in the wild-card round.
With Ford Field as loud as McCarthy has ever heard it and the Lions trying for their first division title in 23 years, the Packers simply hung tough. They needed major contributions from a second-year fullback and an undrafted rookie wide receiver while dealing with a depleted secondary in the second half, losing three cornerbacks to injury.
On offense, Aaron Ripkowski got things going on the ground with nine carries for 61 yards, adding a 7-yard TD reception. Rookie receiver Geronimo Allison also came through with four receptions for 91 yards, including a 10-yard TD in the fourth quarter that put the Packers up two scores for the first time.
“‘Rip’ is a very consistent player,” said QB Aaron Rodgers, once again the dominant field general with four touchdown passes. “He’s been that John Kuhn type of player where you know you can count on him. On a big third down, I want ‘Rip’ back there, just like I wanted John back there.”
Allison hauled in a 39-yard reception in the waning moments of the first half to set up a field goal that got the Packers within 14-10 at intermission.
He also was on the receiving end of a bullet TD throw from Rodgers on an extended play, as the quarterback bought a ton of time moving to his left and then fired to a diving Allison in the back of the end zone.
“Geronimo you could see it really coming last couple weeks,” McCarthy said. “He’s been practicing very, very well. Based on how we felt they may react to Jordy (Nelson) or handle Davante (Adams) or Jared Cook, we knew there’d be some opportunities for Geronimo, and Aaron has great confidence in him. I thought he really stepped up there in the fourth quarter.”
The entire offense did again after the Lions got within 23-17 on a long field goal. Green Bay drove 75 yards in 11 plays, capped by a 9-yard TD pass to Adams, his second score of the game. Rodgers also hit Adams for the two-point conversion and a 31-17 lead as the MVP candidate finished 27-of-39 for 300 yards and a 126.0 passer rating. With the four TD passes, Rodgers also finished the regular season with a league-leading 40.
The clinching drive required two key third-down conversions and consumed nearly five minutes on the clock, leaving Detroit less than three minutes, down by two touchdowns.
“The fourth-quarter drive was a statement drive, and we had to have it,” McCarthy said. “Our defensive guys were struggling, moving parts all over the place. That spoke volumes about the character and resiliency of our football team.”
The Packers lost three cornerbacks to injury in a span of a few plays, as Damarious Randall (knee), Makinton Dorleant (knee) and Quinten Rollins (neck) all left the game. Rollins was taken to a hospital for further examination, but he was conscious and had movement. No other update was available after the game.
The injuries forced Micah Hyde to move out to boundary cornerback, with safeties Morgan Burnett and rookie Kentrell Brice playing in the slots. It was a patchwork defensive backfield, and McCarthy said the defense was down to about three play calls down the stretch.
But the unit didn’t allow Lions QB Matthew Stafford (26-of-41, 347 yards, two TDs, one INT, 96.3 rating) to throw a touchdown pass in the second half until just 13 seconds remained.
“Guts,” McCarthy said of the defensive effort, which included Hyde picking off Stafford at the goal line with 1:30 to go. “No panic.”
That’s been the case the past six weeks, as the Packers needed every win along the way to stay in the playoff chase.
McCarthy admitted there wasn’t much of a celebration of the division championship in the locker room, partly because his exhausted players were “tapped out” but also because this strong run was no surprise and this team is looking for more.
“They believed in it, and maybe that’s why we’re not doing cartwheels right now,” McCarthy said. “Our plan is to try to win it all, and we’re one of six to battle it out here in the NFC.
“We have bigger aspirations. This is the first step.”
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