GREEN BAY, Wis. — About 75 minutes before kickoff, players inside the Green Bay Packers’ locker room began to find out that Detroit Lions’ star wide receiver Calvin Johnson was inactive for their Week 5 matchup.
While Johnson’s absence certainly played into the Packers’ favor and their 22-9 victory over the Lions, at least one Green Bay player didn’t take it as welcomed news.
“Sam (Shields) was kind of upset he didn’t get to go against him,” cornerback Davon House said. “It’s a big game for him to go against (Johnson) to show the world that he can be a No. 1 corner.”
Shields was coming off a game in which he performed well against Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green, holding him to four catches and 46 yards. Shields also intercepted a pass in single coverage with Green.
Without Johnson, the Lions’ top playmaker in the passing game was tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who finished with four catches and 59 yards.
“That’s like a game without Aaron (Rodgers) playing at the last minute,” House said. “That’s the best player on their team. Probably the best receiver in the league. It changed dramatically.”
Though Detroit continued its 22-year losing streak in the state of Wisconsin, Johnson was dominant in his previous three games against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Between 2010-2012, Johnson had 27 catches for 448 yards and three touchdowns. So, as if Johnson’s reputation wasn’t already that of a nearly unstoppable receiver, he had found ways to often have his best games in Green Bay.
“It definitely changes their offense,” Rodgers said. “He’s a dynamic player; one of the top players in the league. Not having him out there definitely helped our cause.”
The deep threat that Johnson would have provided wasn’t there for the Lions, and the Packers’ defense took advantage by pressuring quarterback Matthew Stafford and sacking him five times. Coming into this game, Detroit had only allowed three sacks in the first four games.
“Just being able to know that the big-shot opportunity isn’t going to be there, I think you can kind of send people at the quarterback,” said outside linebacker Mike Neal, who had one of the sacks. “You don’t have to double (Johnson), so you have more people in coverage and I think it just paid off for us.”
The Lions’ longest pass play was a 25-yard completion to Pettigrew.
Green Bay’s defense was able to focus more on Detroit’s second-biggest playmaker, running back Reggie Bush, who was held to 44 rushing yards and 25 receiving yards. That’s far from the 201 total yards Bush posted in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings or the 173 combined yards he had last weekend against the Chicago Bears, both games which Johnson was on the field for.
However, House was feeling confident that the Packers could have stopped Bush either way.
“To tell you the truth, with running wise, I don’t think it would’ve made a difference with Calvin in the game,” House said. “Because it wasn’t like we were just throwing nine people in the box with Reggie. Hats off to the front seven. At the end of the year, we might easily be Top 10 in the league with stopping the run.”
Johnson was listed as questionable on the injury report and was a limited participant in Friday’s practice. But it was apparent that Green Bay never expected Johnson to actually sit out this game.
“I think anytime a player like Calvin Johnson goes out of the game — I think it would be no different than someone like Clay Matthews — and you’re surprised, definitely you have to adjust your thinking,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “But football is still football.”
According to House, no Packers player reacted by saying anything along the lines of, “Oh, yes, Calvin isn’t playing.” But with Johnson not in uniform, Green Bay got the win it needed to improve to a 2-2 record, while dropping Detroit to 3-2 and giving the Lions their first divisional loss of the season.