The Packers made their Thanksgiving happy with a road win over the Detroit Lions by the score of 27-15.
In his post-game press conference Packers head coach Mike McCarthy summed up his team’s approach to takeaways by saying, “everybody preaches, we practice.” On Thursday, the Packers practice paid off to the tune of three interceptions. On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers and the offense took those three picks and turned them into 17 points. When it comes down to it, would you rather have a dominating defense or an opportunistic one?
It wasn’t just turnovers that the Packers made the most of, however. On the Packers first drive of the second half, the Lions had seemingly stopped the Packers from scoring after Donald Driver couldn’t get his hands on a third-down pass from the Detroit 3-yard line. But Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh committed a costly penalty and was ejected from the game for kicking Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith while Smith was on the ground after the play. The offense was given a fresh set of downs, and two plays later, John Kuhn followed a B.J. Raji lead-block into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown plunge.
Play Of The Game
On a second-and-10 from his own 20-yard line, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford tried to find his tight end. Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett sniffed out the play and instead of rushing Stafford, the eleventh-year veteran shuffled out to his left. When Stafford tried to force the pass, the 340-pound Pickett showed off his athleticism by leaping high into the air to tip the ball. Clay Matthews went high and Charles Woodson went low as they both broke for the ball. Matthews homed in and came away with the game-changing interception. Two plays later, Greg Jennings and the Packers offense notched the first score of the game.
Next Man Up
This phrase has come to have multiple meanings for the Green Bay Packers. Primarily, it speaks to the roster depth that Ted Thompson and the Packers front office has accumulated. In a violent sport in which injuries are many, the Packers came into the game with minimal damage to their roster. Perhaps it’s the effects of playing three games in an 11-day span or maybe it’s the turf at Ford Field, but the Packers left The Motor City wounded.
Both starting inside linebackers – Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk – left the game with calf injuries. Of the two, Bishop’s appeared to be more serious as he finished the game on the sidelines sporting two crutches with his right calf wrapped in ice. Right guard Josh Sitton suffered a knee sprain and James Starks “tweaked his ankle” as well.
Rookie D.J. Smith and second-year backer Robert Francois replaced Bishop and Hawk, while Sitton was replaced by Evan Dietrich-Smith. A combination of Ryan Grant, John Kuhn and undrafted rookie Brandon Saine made up for Starks’ absence. The pass blocking of the Packers offensive line took a bit of a hit with Dietrich-Smith at guard, but when it mattered most in the fourth quarter, the offense engineered a 10-play, 53-yard scoring drive that ate up 5:42 of the clock. Smith and Francois combined for nine tackles and Francois pulled down a high-flying interception in the third quarter. With or without Starks, the running game was nothing special.
The prognosis of the injured players is unknown at this point, but the quartet will certainly benefit from the extra rest before their next game.
In addition to replacing injured players, the phrase of “next man up” has come to be the mantra for the Packers wide receiving corps. The dynamic group simply does not have a weakness and each week a new receiver steps up to be the playmaker. Coming into the game, the hot receiver was Jordy Nelson, but today, it was James Jones’ turn to shine. And with 3 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown to break the game open in the second half, he shone brightly.
The Defense States Its Case
The Lions did a lot to hurt their chances on Thanksgiving Day with turnovers and missed throws, but credit the Packers defense for making things difficult for Stafford and company. The Packers defense did give up 409 total yards and 14 points, but the final touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson was a meaningless, garbage time score.
The unit as a whole played one of their better games of the season, but a few players in particular stood out. Charles Woodson may have missed a couple of tackles, but his third-quarter interception was vintage Woodson. With Stafford attempting to find tight end Brandon Pettigrew, Woodson timed the pass perfectly and simultaneously closed in on Pettigrew and the football. Simply wanting it more, Woodson wrestled the ball away from the Lions tight end and came away with the pick. As the FOX crew pointed out, this was Woodson’s fourth consecutive game against the Lions in which he intercepted a pass.
Another player who jumped out was Clay Matthews. He was the only Packers player to consistently create a pass rush and he was around the action all afternoon. In particular, Matthews’ made a great play with a pass deflection in the second quarter that ended a Lions drive at mid-field. The outside linebacker sniffed out an attempted screen pass and leaped high into the air with his right hand to knock down the pass attempt and force a punt. Between Matthews’ motor and the superb play of the secondary, the defense denied the Lions any chance of a fourth-quarter comeback.
The suddenly banged-up Packers are looking forward to a ten-day break until their next game. The team travels to New York to face the Giants in what should prove to be a difficult road test for the undefeated Packers. For now, however, Green Bay is 11-0 for the first time in franchise history and already looking towards the playoffs, and that equals a very happy Thanksgiving for the Packers and their fans.