Green Bay Packers defeat Detroit Lions 27-15, remain undefeated at 11-0
By Pete Dougherty, Green Bay Press-Gazzette
~DETROIT — So much for the up-and-coming Detroit Lions finding Thanksgiving Day magic at Ford Field.
The Lions had plenty going for them in this holiday showdown, including the chance to get back in the NFC North Division race and hand their rival its first loss of the season.
But intangibles are no substitute for talent and ruthless execution. The Green Bay Packers demonstrated that Thursday by shutting down game-breaking receiver Calvin Johnson and wearing down the Lions’ defense with superior playmaking talent in a 27-15 game that wasn’t as close as the score suggests.
“They’re a good team as well, but we’re a better team,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. “That’s all it says.”
The win was a major step toward the Packers joining the elite group of NFL teams that were unbeaten and untied in the regular season, which for now consists only of the 1972 Miami Dolphins and 2007 New England Patriots.
The Lions (7-4) probably were the best opponent remaining on the Packers’ schedule. The table was set for a repeat of 1962, when another 10-0 Packers team came to Detroit on Thanksgiving and was hammered by a good Lions team, 26-14.
But the 2011 Packers responded with one of their best defensive performances of the season. They turned a tight game into a comfortable second-half win that showed how difficult it is to defeat a quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who refuses to even flirt with interceptions and has as deep a receiving corps as there is in the NFL.
“A lot of people picked against us this week and thought this was the week that we were going to go down,” Rodgers said. “I still don’t think there’s a specific recipe to beat us. Our defense is playing better. They played very well today and got three turnovers, and the offense, when we’re not turning the ball over, we’re tough to beat.”
Thus, the 2011 Packers become Green Bay’s first 11-0 team. The players surely can smell a 16-0 season, but coach Mike McCarthy must have addressed the issue with them after the game, because they were on message afterward.
“I can smell 12-0, that’s as far as I can see,” defensive end B.J. Raji said. “These games aren’t going to get any easier. I’m going to enjoy this the next couple days then we’ll get on to (the) New York (Giants).”
For much of Thursday, this matchup of the NFL’s first- and third-ranked scoring teams was a defensive and physical battle that took a toll on both teams.
By the second half, the Packers were playing without three injured starters (right guard Josh Sitton and linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk) and a special-teams player lost to ejection (Pat Lee).
The Lions, in the meantime, had lost their best defensive player, tackle Ndamukong Suh, ejected in the third quarter for stomping on guard Evan Dietrich-Smith’s arm; lost injured starting halfback Kevin Smith; and were so low on defensive backs in the fourth quarter that receiver Rashied Davis was playing cornerback.
Regardless of injuries, the Packers kept the Lions’ best players from beating them, in this case shutting down Johnson, and the Lions didn’t have the depth to make up the difference.
Cornerback Tramon Williams shadowed Johnson whenever he lined up outside and Woodson did so when the receiver was in the slot. The two often had help from a safety over the top, but not always. Johnson finished with only four catches for 49 yards, and his day wasn’t as good as those numbers suggest. Two of his receptions were in the fourth quarter with the Packers ahead by three scores, including his lone touchdown in garbage time on a 3-yard catch with a 11 seconds left.
Johnson’s size (6-foot-5, 236 pounds), wingspan (6-10) and jumping ability (42½-inch vertical) make him good for a couple field-tilting plays in most games. But on the Lions’ lone deep shot to him on Thursday, a third-and-2 from the Packers’ 29 late in the first half, Williams beat him to the end zone and comfortably broke up the pass.
“Against a guy like that you don’t want him to always know if you’re in a one-high (safety), so we mixed up things,” Williams said. “It was unpredictable, really. I’m thinking once they cross midfield, they’re ready to take a shot to their guy. I kind of had a feeling that was what they were going to do, and that’s what they did.”
The Lions outgained the Packers 409 yards to 349 yards, but those numbers deceive. They gained 153 of those yards after falling behind 24-0 late in the third quarter. Even when they were picking up yardage early — it was mainly on dump-off routes — they averaged only 8.6 yards a catch. Their halfbacks (Maurice Morris, Smith, and Keiland Williams) and tight ends (Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler) combined for 22 of their 32 receptions.
“That’s our formula for success on defense,” Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said, “make you drive all the way downfield, make you dink and dunk and get yards, but pretty soon you’ll make a mistake, make a bad pass or somebody (on defense) will make a play.”
When turnovers are decisive, things usually go the Packers’ way. They came into the game ranked No. 2 in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-12 because they play the ball well on defense and have a quarterback who almost never turns it over.
On Thursday, they intercepted Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford three times, leaving him with a passer rating of 66.5 points.
Pickett was part of the game’s biggest play when he sniffed out a short pass and made a leaping tip that outside linebacker Clay Matthews caught at the Lions’ 13 in the second quarter. That set up Rodgers’ 3-yard touchdown pass to receiver Greg Jennings for the only score of the first half.
In the third quarter, replacement linebacker Robert Francois intercepted a slightly underthrown seam route to Pettigrew to end one Lions drive, and Woodson jumped a quick route to Pettigrew to end another.
Rodgers, in the meantime, threw no interceptions on his way to topping the 110-point mark in passer rating for the 12th time in 12 games this season. He finished at 120.2 on Thursday. He almost lost a fumble in the third quarter on a strip sack by Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, but beaten right tackle Bryan Bulaga recovered the ball.
“We take the football away and we take care of it,” McCarthy said. “Everybody preaches it, everybody practices it, but we do as good or better than anybody in the league and that was evident today.”
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