Packers block Lions from division title race

It was a win the Packers needed for many reasons, and they got it. Now at 7-3 with a 2-0 record in the division, Green Bay — with four more games remaining against the NFC North — controls its own playoff future throughout the rest of the season. It also sends Detroit (4-6) into a nearly impossible situation of making the postseason, therefore turning it into a three-team race for the division title.

Five things we learned from the Packers’ 24-20 win over the Lions:

1. Aaron Rodgers leads a rare fourth-quarter comeback

Rodgers hates the fourth-quarter comeback statistic. His main point of contention, and it’s an apt one to make, is that if a team is winning entering the fourth quarter — as the Packers so often have been in recent seasons — then it’s impossible for a quarterback to look good in this category. Rodgers had only four of them in his career entering Sunday’s game, two fewer than Mr. Fourth Quarter Comeback, Tim Tebow — a quarterback with only 14 career starts who rarely played well in the first three quarters of most games.

Rodgers isn’t likely to change his mind on this topic, but after his fourth quarter touchdown pass to Randall Cobb to put Green Bay up 21-20, at least the statistic will look a bit kinder for him.

The Packers’ offense had a very nice 50-50 mix of run and pass against the Lions, but there wasn’t much to show for it until the fourth quarter. Then, with 4:25 left in the game, Rodgers orchestrated a six-play, 82-yard drive in 2 minutes, 30 seconds to give Green Bay the touchdown it very much needed in order to escape with a victory.

2. Mason Crosby’s funk proves very costly

A rough season for Crosby took its most negative turn yet with the 28-year-old kicker’s performance Sunday in Detroit.

It started with a chance for coach Mike McCarthy to send Crosby out for a 49-yard attempt midway through the first quarter. Instead, despite playing in a dome stadium with no adverse weather conditions, McCarthy tried a deep pass down the middle on fourth-and-4 that fell incomplete.

Right before halftime, with an opportunity to tie the game at 10, Crosby missed wide right on a 50-yard try. However, Lions coach Jim Schwartz called a timeout right before the snap, giving Crosby a second chance. But Crosby missed that one too, sending it wide left.

With nine minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Packers trailing 14-17, Crosby missed a 38-yard field goal. Though NFL kickers need to make 80 percent of their attempts no matter what the distance is, field goals from 38 yards inside a dome need to put three points on the board 99 percent of the time, or that kicker is not long for the league. McCarthy was visibly frustrated on the sideline following that miss, nearly throwing his headset on the ground before gaining composure.

Later, in a somewhat redeeming moment, Crosby did connect from 39 yards to give Green Bay a 24-20 lead, forcing the Lions to need a touchdown on their next drive with just 19 seconds remaining.

It will be interesting to see whether Packers general manager Ted Thompson feels it’s necessary to at least bring in a couple kickers for tryouts this week. The team clearly does not want to give up on Crosby right in the midst of a playoff push, but Thompson may have no choice but to begin some type of competition for that spot.

3. James Starks is officially the featured running back . . . and he played well

Well, so much for Alex Green. The second-year running back who had 20-plus carries in three consecutive games just one month ago is barely even a part of the Packers’ offense anymore.

Now that James Starks is fully healed from the turf toe injury he suffered in the first preseason game, he was the guy in Green Bay’s rushing attack, carrying the ball on 25 of the team’s 28 attempts.

Based on Starks’ performance Sunday, he earned every one of those 25 carries, racking up 74 hard-earned yards. His 3.0 yards-per-rush average won’t look great in the final box score, but Starks was impressive. He was stopped for a loss three times, but the majority of his carries were for gains of between four and seven yards, which is exactly what the Packers’ offense needed. And McCarthy rewarded him by continually giving him the ball all game, a trend that seems likely to continue until opposing defenses start respect Green Bay’s ground game and commit more players near the line of scrimmage.

4. Packers’ defense puts an end to Detroit’s fourth-quarter excellence

The Lions have been fantastic in the fourth quarter this season, scoring 118 points in the final 15 minutes of their first nine games (13.1 points per fourth-quarter average). But Green Bay’s defense held Detroit to a season-low three points when the game was on the line.

In the fourth quarter, the Packers had two sacks and forced Matthew Stafford to complete only three of his 10 passes. From Brad Jones stuffing Lions running back Mikel Leshoure behind the line of scrimmage for a 2-yard loss to Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian breaking up passes, Green Bay’s defense performed well in the biggest moments of the game.

5. Packers’ offensive line struggled in first game without Bryan Bulaga

After Bulaga’s injury two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals, moving T.J. Lang to right tackle and bringing in Evan Dietrich-Smith to play left guard worked very well. The same cannot be said in this game.

Both Lang and Dietrich-Smith performed poorly for big stretches in Detroit. Dietrich-Smith had a false start and a holding penalty, and was fortunate that an unsportsmanlike conduct flag was picked up by the officials that would have cost Green Bay 15 yards. Lang also had a holding call, but more troubling for McCarthy was the offensive line’s inability to give Rodgers a lot of time to throw in the pocket.

Rodgers is elusive and difficult to bring down, which helped him to only be sacked three times, but he was chased out very quickly (in less than two seconds on several occasions) and had to throw on the run. Rodgers is also very good at that, so the offense isn’t always worse off because of it, but in order for the big plays to work and for the receivers to have time to make their moves, Lang and Dietrich-Smith (as well as the rest of the offensive line) need to step up over the final six regular season games.

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