GREEN BAY—Just like the record 78,200 in attendance at Lambeau Field, the Packers didn’t have much advance warning that Detroit star receiver Calvin Johnson wasn’t going to play on Sunday due to a knee injury.
“We found out right before the game,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We didn’t have any clue throughout the week or anything. It was a big surprise.
“Guys were watching TV and they mentioned that he wasn’t playing. In our eyes, we were like, well, we have to go out there and still win the game.”
The Packers did that, 22-9, by bottling up the Lions’ only other real game-breaking threat, running back Reggie Bush. Green Bay defenders said afterward the game plan didn’t really change without Johnson on the field, but there’s no denying that it changed the Lions’ offense immeasurably.
“As you could see, they did a lot of short passes,” said outside linebacker Mike Neal, who had one of five sacks of Matthew Stafford. Detroit’s quarterback resorted to a lot of dink-and-dunk, compiling just 262 passing yards on 25 completions, barely 10 yards per catch. Of his few downfield throws, most were well off target.
“They didn’t really take a lot of shots down the field, and that’s what (Johnson) is, a big-shot player, and they didn’t really have that option. They put a lot on (number) 21’s back.”
Twenty-one is Bush, of course, who finished with just 69 yards from scrimmage. He was held to 44 yards rushing on 13 carries – with nearly three-quarters of those yards coming on a 20-yard reverse and a 12-yard draw in a span of three plays late in the third quarter. His other 11 carries netted just 12 yards.
He also had only 25 yards receiving on four grabs, failing to find any open field once the ball was in his hands.
“I think three of their first nine plays were screens, so they had a bunch of screens (in their game plan) coming in,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “We had to be prepared for that and not let him get out of the gate on any of those.”
One of the few times Stafford took a shot deep and was on target, safety Morgan Burnett managed to knock a possible TD pass away from receiver Patrick Edwards despite never turning his head to find the ball. Burnett, playing in his first game of the season after recovering from a hamstring injury, deftly read Edwards’ eyes and somehow got a piece of the ball when he reached out.
“I read the receiver and tried my best to time it up,” Burnett said. “DP (safeties coach Darren Perry) always preaches to us as a safety when you get in those deep-ball situations, just don’t panic. I didn’t panic and tried to make a play. I guess luck was on my side.”
On the next snap, linebacker Clay Matthews sacked Stafford but injured his thumb on the play. It knocked the Lions out of field-goal range and kept the score 16-3 late in the third quarter. The Packers managed to keep the Lions out of the end zone until just over two minutes remained and the game was well in hand.
It got to that point in large part due to the Packers finally breaking some big plays on offense.
When the Packers led 6-3 midway through the third quarter, they’d had only two plays longer than 10 yards. Then Randall Cobb took a surprise handoff to the left, cut inside a kick-out block from center Evan Dietrich-Smith and was off on a 67-yard scamper – the Packers’ longest rush since Brandon Jackson’s 71-yarder at Washington in Week 5 of 2010.
“It was wide open. I got up on the safety pretty fast. Exactly how it’s designed,” Cobb said. “I have to do a better job of finishing on that, though. That’s got to be a touchdown.”
It did set up a field goal, however, and opened the door to a string of explosive plays.
Over Green Bay’s next three possessions, James Jones ran past cornerback Chris Houston to haul in a career-long 83-yard TD pass, Jordy Nelson executed another sideline, tip-toe job for 31 yards and Jones fought off Houston’s interference for a 39-yard grab. The latter two plays led to two more field goals to push the Packers’ lead to 22-3.
“We started making plays down the field,” Jones said. “The first half, we let some tough grabs go, which we could have made some plays on, but we just executed better.”
Most important, the Packers improved to 2-2 and sit even in the loss column in the NFC North with the 3-2 Lions and Bears.
“It’s definitely a good win for us, a division win at home,” guard T.J. Lang said. “Early in the season like this, you don’t celebrate the wins too hard, but we knew going 1-3 wasn’t an option for us today. We had to go out there and get that win. We’ve still got a lot of football left.” Complete game coverage