A robust Lions’ ground attack and a 14-10 halftime deficit weren’t enough to subdue a dogged and persistent Packers’ team that wasn’t in the least bit satisfied with backdooring its way into the postseason thanks to a Washington Redskins’ loss that guaranteed both NFC-North combatants free access to the playoffs—win, lose or draw.
Two weeks ago, the Packers probably wouldn’t have won this all-important contest against their division foes with a hobbled Rodgers recovering from calf and hamstring injuries since his ability to use his legs to extend plays and gain yards as a ball carrier were called upon constantly in the Sunday-night primetime matchup.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wasn’t looking to employ a rope-a-dope or bend-but-don’t-style against a quarterback that had gone a month without turning the ball over and six weeks without tossing an interception.
The Lions were blitzing often and from every direction, but No. 12 had his dancing shoes on, as he continually twirled and pirouetted his way out of trouble and found ways to produce positive yardage.
Yes, it was another one of those games where Green Bay’s best defense was a prolific offense considering the host of legitimate game breakers Detroit featured in GoldenTate, Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron supported by rocket-armed quarterback MatthewStafford and the hard running of Zach Zenner.
An improbable turnaround that has seen the Packers win six consecutive games has galvanized the spirit of this group to the point where they expect to defeat their opponent every week.
It’s a quality that many coaches and players frequently talk about, but can only be organically achieved through continued success.
Clay Matthews said as much during his pregame interview with NBC’s MichelleTafoya by matter of factly stating that his Packers’ team is starting to “peak.” The veteran outside linebacker added how much the guys “believed” in each other during their current run and how they’ve “weathered the storm.”
There’s no telling how far this rising momentum can take the Packers. Doubters that refuse to buy into the validity of this late-season surge should look no further than the last two Super Bowls won by their upcoming opponent.
Neither one of those Giants’ teams were dominant or expected to go all the way at any point in the regular season, but they caught fire at the right time and used that positive energy to take on all comers until they held up the coveted Lombardi Trophy in 2008 and 2012.
The forces at work in no way mask a young and vulnerable secondary or an overly accommodating run defense, but with the way Rodgers is playing, there’s no reason why the hottest franchise in the NFL shouldn’t be in every ball game down the stretch.
Here is this week’s rundown of the individual Packers that are soaring into wild-card weekend and those that remain grounded in their struggle to take flight.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is your final regular-season Stock-Up, Stock-Down Report.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Rodgers: Ok, let’s get the negatives out of the way. Rodgers missed on a couple of deep throws and took some unnecessary shots when he could have unloaded he ball and lived to fight another day.
Other than that, Green Bay’s prescient franchise quarterback—who accurately forecasted his team’s amazing run following a crushing Week-10 loss to the Titans—was electrifying in how he picked apart the Lions by making throws with bodies around him and displaying excellent timing with his targets out of their breaks.
Rodgers leaned on the running game in the first half, but still managed to move the ball by working the ball underneath to his backs and tight ends on the Packers first scoring drive that culminated with a 7-yard touchdown pass to an uncoveredAaron Ripkowski.
The MVP candidate started heating up on the last series of the half by taking advantage of poor coverage and finding a wide-openGeronimo Allisonalong the right sideline for a 41-yard completion that led to a 53-yardMason Crosbyfield goal two plays later.
Rodgers wasted no time in spearheading another scoring drive right out of the break hitting Allison on an 11-yard hook-up off a well-executed bootleg, then scrambling away from pressure for 5 yards and later snapping off a 20-yard completion to Jordy Nelson, who found an open spot in zone coverage and quickly turned back to his quarterback.
Two plays later, Rodgers hit Davante Adamsfor a 2-yard score on an in-breaking route that safetyDon Careywasn’t quick enough to get to, as the Packers put Detroit in the rearview mirror for good by taking a 17-14 lead. Again, the timing of the 12th-year veteran’s passes was impeccable and on-point.
Green Bay’s next scoring drive that stretched into the fourth quarter was highlighted by two Rodgers-to-Allison connections.
The first came on a 1st-and-16 from the visiting team’s own 25 yard line that saw Rodgers almost effortlessly drop a deep ball right into hands of Allison 31 yards to the left side of the field on an out-and-up route in which the receiver gracefully used his length to stretch out for the ball that was perfectly served to him on a silver platter.
The second pass play was one where the Titletown triggerman spun away from the oncoming rush ofKerry Hyderfrom the right side and then proceeded to drift out further to the left to evade Khyri Thorton before rifling a low 10-yard laser to a sliding Allison for the touchdown that put the NFC-North champs ahead 23-14 with about 10 minutes left in the game.
An astounding 8.78 seconds elapsed between the snap of the ball and the moment in which Allison went to down to his knees to secure the throw.
In total, Rodgers completed 27 of 39 pass attempts for 300 yards, 4 touchdowns and no turnovers on his way to cementing his case for winning his third MVP trophy.
Others might make an argument forTom BradyandMatt Ryanbeing more deserving, but the 33-year-old California native had to overcome more obstacles in putting a floundering team on his shoulders and fearlessly making good on a wild prediction that most honest Cheeseheads would tell you was far-fetched and overly ambitious at best.
Rodgers wrapped up the regular season by leading the league with 40 touchdown passes and only 7 interceptions with a makeshift running attack and a porous defensive unit.
Aaron Ripkowski: Those that found themselves clamoring to see the 246-pound fullback as the lead back followingEddie Lacy’s season-ending injury were treated to quite a show in the first half with the second-year player bullying his way for 45 yards on 6 carries.
Ripkowski benefited from some creative full-house backfield formations along with great interior blocking from bothLane Taylorand Corey Linsley.
But credit “Rip” for looking very comfortable with the ball in his hands and showing no hesitancy in ramming through open holes.
The fact that the 24-year-old rolling ball of thunder violently finishes every one of his runs is an effective tool to soften up a defense with early in games.
A tip of the cap goes to Mike McCarthy for utilizing Ripkowski in that manner Sunday night.
Davante Adams: He didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet by recording 6 catches for 31 yards, but he made a significant impact on the game by hauling in two touchdowns and converting a two-point conversion to boot.
The sudden 6-foot-2 wideout made a quick move to the inside to catch his defender off guard on his first score. His second trip into the end zone came about on a fade route on which Adams outfoughtNevin Lawsonto the left corner and used his body control to turn and snatch the ball that was thrown to his back shoulder.
Adams finished the year only three yards shy of the 1,000 yard plateau. More importantly, though, he has become a much better route runner along with making strides in the way he battles opponents for the ball.
The Fresno State product has surpassedRandall Cobbas the No. 2 receiver in the Packers’ offense and at only 24 years old, the future looks extremely bright.
Geronimo Allison: Speaking of up-and-coming pass catchers, the long, wiry Allison had his best performance to date by using his deceptive speed to get open on a number of deep plays and finished with 4 receptions on 6 targets for 91 yards, including the previously-referenced fourth-quarter touchdown.
One would never know that an undrafted rookie free agent that ran a 4.67 coming out of college could be such an imposing deep threat. But the Florida-born passing weapon is a long-stridder that picks up speed the deeper he goes downfield, as he did on a 41-yard completion versus zone coverage that helped set up a field goal right before halftime.
On his 31-yard completion in the third quarter, the man affectionately known as “G-Mo” showcased his smooth route-running skills by executing an out-and-up pattern to gain a step onCrezdon Butler.
Allison’s relentlessness to keep moving in the back of the end zone seven plays later was rewarded when Rodgers hit him with a low delivery that the rookie did a tremendous job adjusting to.
This kid is a quick study and has suddenly emerged as a key piece in the passing game.
Jared Cook: There’s no getting around the fact that the Packers are a better offense with Cook on the field given how defenses need to account for his ability to attack the deep seams.
The veteran tight end was on the receiving end of a key play on Green Bay’s initial scoring drive where Cook took a short toss and turned it back inside for a 24-yard completion to the Detroit 33 yard line.
Cook came up aces once again by converting a 3rd-and-3 by getting open on a 15-yard out route and demonstrated a strong grip with safetyMiles Killebrewdesperately swinging his arms in his futile attempt to force a fumble.
A healthy Cook gives Rodgers yet another big-play option that should only continue to pose problems for defenses that must decide who to roll their double and/or bracket coverages to.
David Bakhtiari: Another week and yet another dominant outing on the part of the ascending left tackle who, along with Rodgers and Nelson, has been among the most consistent offensive performers this year.
Bakh gets high marks for mirroring Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah and limiting the premiere 4-3 defensive end to 3 tackles and one quarterback hit. He was able to bend with Ansah around the edge without losing his grip on his opponent.
No. 69 was just as tremendous in locking upAnthony Zettelon the Rodgers-to-Ripkowski touchdown in the second quarter by fluidly dropping back and putting his body between the pass rusher and his quarterback.
If Rodgers had two or three blockers like Bahktiari on the offensive line, he might have about 12 (or more!) seconds to go through his progressions on pass plays.
The fourth-year bookend is a top-5 player at his position and is earning every penny of the four-year extension he signed back in September.
Taylor Lane: The left guard was instrumental in providing Ripkowski with large holes to run through, as was seen on a 2nd-and-10 running play that netted 8 yards in which Lane cleared rookie lineman A’Shawn Robinson from the fullback’s path.
Robinson gave Lane a tough battle when the ex-Alabama Crimson Tide was able to slip off his man’s block and drop Montgomery for a 3-yard loss in the third quarter.
But the man wearing the green and gold got the better of Robinson more times than not and, in fact, outwrestled No. 99 on a 7-yard Montgomery scamper to the 9 yard line that preceded Rodgers’ fourth touchdown pass that locked up a Packers victory and a division title.
If you search around the internet, you’ll find a few doubting Thomases out there who forecasted gloom and doom for the first-year starter that was put in the unenviable position of replacing long-time Packer and current Chicago BearJosh Sitton.
Taylor has made it through some rough spots, but is steadily improving as a physical force in the running game. His pass blocking is also coming along.
Mike Daniels: Plain and simple, Daniels was the only defensive lineman that consistently beat right guardLarry Warford in the trenches on his way to stop Zenner dead in his tracks on multiple plays.
The problem lies in the fact that there’s only one of him and his supporting line mates aren’t getting the job done—more on that later.
Nick Perry: Club or no club, Perry is scratching and clawing his way to glory in the trenches. He came up with a clutch sack on 3rd and 4 with Green Bay only up by three in the third quarter.
During the play, the disruptive outside linebacker exploded off the line and got the outside shoulder of right tackleCorey Robinson, who was off-balance and could only watch Perry close in on Stafford.
The Packers’ leading sack master also contributed 2 quarterback hits and a tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
Blake Martinez: The rookie inside linebacker put his stamp on his team’s 10th win of the season by earning his first career sack on a 2nd-and-8 blitz in the second quarter that saw Martinez andJake Ryancrossing each other with the former flashing remarkable closing speed in bringing down Stafford.
In addition, the former fourth-round pick was quick to track down Zenner on a fourth-quarter 5-yard gain that could have been a lot worse if not for Martinez’s hustle.
The young defender is doing nothing to tarnish his reputation of being a student of the game that more often than not puts himself in the right position to make a play on the ball carrier.
Martinez also posted a quarterback hit and 2 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Morgan Burnett: The seventh-year safety didn’t make any plays worthy of making the ESPN Sports-Center highlight reel, but what he did was stabilize the secondary following injuries to bothDamarious RandallandQuinten Rollinsthat forced both cornerbacks out of the game.
Burnett moved over from his strong safety position to slot corner and saw lots ofAnquan Boldinalong with occasionally defending (Marvin) Jones as well.
The fact that he didn’t embarrass himself says a lot, but then again, this isn’t the first time the 27-year-old defensive back has played another position considering past games when he lined up as a dime linebacker.
Yes, Green Bay’s defense doesn’t scare anyone at the moment, but think about the type of shape it would be in without the services of the versatile Burnett.
Micah Hyde: I ripped Hyde almost on a weekly basis earlier in the season, but give the man credit for staying on the field and fighting through his struggles.
He’s actually come up huge in recent weeks and the Packers’ latest victory was no different, as he, much like Burnett, had to play lots of snaps at cornerback to make up for the previously mentioned injuries.
Hyde showed top-notch tackling form on several plays including a 24-yard Tate catch across the middle that the receiver could have scored on at the 2:04 mark of the fourth quarter.
But his shining moment of the evening came three plays later by picking off Stafford on a pass intended for Tate in the end zone.
No. 33 worked hard for that turnover by being physical with his man all the way through the route and squeezing the Lions’ pass catcher to the sideline leaving him no room to adjust to the pass that was slightly off its mark.
Moreover, the 26-year-old did his part returning punts by routinely finding small creases and gaining valuable yards to set up the offense.
Hyde may be athletically limited, but he’s tough, smart and durable.
Jan 1, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones (11) makes a catch during the second quarter against Green Bay Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins (24) at Ford Field. Packers won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Christine Michael: The former Seahawk was nothing more than a bit player in this one, but he failed to show any kind of vision in his three carries.
The one play that was noteworthy took place on 1st and 17 in the second quarter with the 221-pound running back taking too long to hit a favorable hole behind left guardT.J. Lang. By the time Michael made his move, the surrounding defenders were already in position to close in and limit him to a 1-yard pick-up.
Maybe the fourth-year pro sticks around next year as a third running back behind Lacy and Montgomery—provided Lacy is re-signed—but I don’t see much long-term upside in the Texas A&M product if he were ever summoned to perform in the role of lead back should backfield injuries reoccur.
There’s a reason why Seattle cut ties with him twice.
Mason Crosby: The 32-year-old has been reliable for the most part this season by successfully converting 26 of his 30 field-goal attempts, but he’s also missed 3 extra points, including one in the fourth quarter versus Detroit.
Luckily, Green Bay still maintained a two-score advantage despite the Crosby error. However, a missed extra point down the road could cost the Packers a ball game with tough matchups versus the Giants and the Cowboys looming.
The veteran place kicker’s value goes beyond his ability to connect on long field goals when you take into account his work in neutralizing the return game with his variety of kickoffs. But he has to be perfect on those extra points during playoff time.
Letroy Guion: Although the stat sheet indicates that Green Bay’s defense held Detroit to 3.6 yards per carry, there were far too many instances in which Zenner blew right through the heart of the defensive line with a head of steam.
The running back’s 15-yard burst on a first-quarter drive that resulted in a missed field goal byMatt Pratersaw the interior lineman get moved off his spot.
Guion’s inability to gain leverage in the ground game reemerged on a 3rd-and-goal play in the second quarter in which the defender was turned by the mauling Warford with a trailing Zenner slamming it into the end zone.
The team needs more from the one-time Florida State Seminole.
Dean Lowry: There were times when the rookie lineman was simply obliterated by Warford, including a 13-yard surge on 2nd and 3 five plays prior to Zenner’s 1-yard touchdown plunge.
Big bad Warford abused the rookie again at the end of the second quarter by standing up Lowry in creating a running lane for Zenner who gained 6 yards on 3rd and 1.
As is the case with many rookies, Lowry needs to gain strength in the offseason, Unfortunately, the Packers need him to contribute right now given paucity of options on the defensive line.
Damarious Randall: The struggling cornerback had to be carted off the field with a knee injury, and while I wish him the best in his recovery, the Packers really didn’t miss him.
Stafford threw to Randall’s side repeatedly in the early going, including on a first-quarter 3rd-and-9 that saw Tate easily accelerate right by his defender off the line of scrimmage and was wide open along the right sideline on what should have been a sure touchdown if his quarterback hadn’t overthrown him.
The fact that there no attempt made to put his hands on Tate before the 5-foot-10 playmaker got into his route was inexcusable…and par for the course for Randall—unfortunately.
Fast forward to the end of the second quarter and there was Randall again applying his trademark off-coverage technique on (Marvin) Jones, who picked up an easy 8 yards and the first down on a 2nd-and-8 hook-up.
On that same drive, the Lions ultimately punched it in to take a 14-7 lead when Anquan Boldin stepped in front on an unsuspecting Randall on a pick/rub play allowing his man (Tate) to reel in the piece-of-cake 3-yard touchdown pass.
The young cover man has been torched, battered and beaten to a bloody pulp to the degree where you would have to surmise that Randall has to be suffering from a serious lack of confidence.
You can see it in his coverage technique, as he’s almost afraid to get too close to the man he’s covering to avoid surrendering a big play.
Randall has turned into a basket case that needs lots of work in the offseason.
Quinten Rollins: First off, Rollins seems to have avoided serious injury following a late third-quarter pass play in which the defensive back’s head came crashing down on the Ford-Field turf in his attempt to cover (Marvin) Jones on a 30-yard strike to the Detroit 34 yard line.
As for the performance of the second-year defender, one would be hard pressed to find anything positive or uplifting to offer.
Rollins, much like his brother-in-arms Randall, is very susceptible to getting beat off the line, which is precisely what happened on the aforementioned completion in which the receiver had quite a few steps on his opponent.
On an earlier play in the second quarter, Rollins was victimized byT.J. Jones, who fought off the Packer corner and gained considerable separation on his man on the 34-yard Stafford delivery.