GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers added even more spice to next weekend’s game in Chicago, moving within one win of the NFC North title with their 27-20 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night.
DaJuan Harris rushed for a score in his first appearance with the Packers, Aaron Rodgers added the longest TD run of his career and Mike Daniels returned a fumble 43 yards as Green Bay (9-4) opened a one-game lead over Chicago. Beat the Bears next weekend at Soldier Field, and Green Bay wins the NFC North for a second straight year.
“The main thing is we won,” Rodgers said. “We’re first in the division by a game and we put ourselves in good position, not only for the division but potentially for a first-round bye. The division is our first goal. … We can wrap things up next week. It’s a tough opponent, a tough place to play. There’s a lot on the line.”
Calvin Johnson had 118 yards receiving to put him over 1,500 for the year, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Lions (4-9) from dropping their fifth straight. This was the third straight game they’ve blown a lead of 10-plus points, tying an NFL record shared by six other teams.
After touchdowns on their first two drives, the Lions could only manage a pair of field goals by Jason Hanson.
“We haven’t found a way to finish games,” Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch said.
“That’s the highlight of our season. That should be the headline, us not finishing. We play three good quarters of football.”
The Packers have won 22 straight at home against the Lions, the longest streak in the NFL. The streak, which includes a playoff game, dates all the way back to 1992 — when Green Bay was still playing some of its home games in Milwaukee.
“I was thinking this would be a waste of a beautiful day, to end that streak,” Rodgers said. “Playing in the snow, a great crowd. Hopefully we can keep that (streak) going as long as I’m playing here.”
Coach Mike McCarthy likes to say all division games are big, but this one got even bigger when Chicago lost to Minnesota earlier in the day.
If the Packers win the division, it would be quite a turnaround from their 2-3 start.
While beating the Lions may have seemed as if it would be the easy part, Green Bay was sluggish for most of the first half. But Daniels’ fumble recovery seemed to energize the Packers. The season’s first significant storm dumped almost 3.5 inches of snow on Green Bay, and flakes swirled throughout Lambeau Field most of the night, making it look like a snow globe.
Heated coils beneath the grass keep the field from being too slippery, but there’s nothing that can be done about the ball. As Matthew Stafford drew his arm back, the ball flew out of his hand.
“That was a big play. We had all the momentum,” Stafford said. “I don’t really have much of an explanation for it. I wish I could have gotten on top of it. It squirted away from me again.”
And Daniels was right there to scoop it up, rumbling nearly half the length of the field for the score that pulled Green Bay within 14-10.
“Mike Daniels’ play was the momentum shift for us that we needed,” McCarthy said. “That was a big play.”
He needs some work on his Lambeau Leap, however, getting only about halfway up the wall.
“I was too tired,” Daniels said.
Hey, Rodgers wasn’t much better.
Still trailing in the third, Rodgers was trying to find someone — anyone — to throw to on third-and-4. With Lions defensive end Willie Young closing in, Rodgers scrambled away and found a hole on the right side. He ran untouched down the sideline, holding the ball out as he crossed the goal line.
The 27-yard touchdown was the longest scoring run of his career, and the Packers’ longest this season.
“For him to score from that distance speaks volumes about his athletic ability,” McCarthy said. “He’s our guy, he’s our ace, it’s built around him and he played well tonight.”
So did Green Bay’s running backs.
The Packers have struggled to get their running game going all season, and were forced to bring back veteran Ryan Grant this week after oft-injured James Starks hurt his knee in last week’s win over Minnesota. Cedric Benson is on injured reserve with a sprained foot.
But with the winter’s first significant storm at Lambeau Field, the Packers finally got in gear on the ground. They rushed for 140 yards, and got contributions from all of their running backs on the go-ahead drive.
Alex Green rushed for 29 yards on the first four plays, then Grant broke off a 13-yard gain.
Then it was Harris’ turn. Elevated from the practice squad just eight days ago, his 5-yard gain put the Packers at the Detroit 14. He strolled in untouched on the next play, giving the Packers a 24-17 lead.
The Lions pulled within a score on Hanson’s 34-yard field goal with 7 seconds left. But the onside kick went out of bounds, and the Packers ran out the clock.
“You’ve got to be able to score and you’ve got to be able to stop them,” Hanson said. “Which is hard to do with Aaron running the show there.”