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Anatomy of a Comeback: How 10 Plays Helped the Packers Stun the Lions

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Anatomy of a Comeback: How 10 Plays Helped the Packers Stun the Lions

Losers of four of the last five games and knocking on the door of a blowout defeat to the Detroit Lions in prime time, the Green Bay Packers needed a spark—just one positive play to get the ball back rolling on a season that started so well but had since spiraled out of control over the last month and a half. 

The Lions led 17-0 at half time Thursday night. Since 2007, teams with a 17-0 lead at the break had won 153 games and lost just eight. There was no indication the stumbling Packers would create a ninth when Detroit made the score 20-0 midway through the third quarter. But football is so often an uninhibited, cruel game.

One play can snowball, creating an avalanche of momentum capable of overcoming any obstacle, regardless of the events of past weeks or even the past 40 minutes. 

The Packers know this feeling. Rewind back to last January, when a hoard of missed opportunities cost Green Bay a trip to the Super Bowl. Thursday night in Detroit did not have immediate championship implications, but it felt like it at times, given how poorly the Packers have played since coming out of the bye, and how devastating a loss would have been to Green Bay's season. 

No team comes back from a 20-point deficit in one play. It takes a series of them, stacked together and bounded by some good fortune. 

Here are the 10 plays that helped create the fourth biggest comeback in team history and one of the wildest finishes in NFL history: 

1. The Lions might have buried the Packers and killed off any remaining resolve had Detroit made a stop on 3rd-and-10 with 8:02 left in the third quarter. Coming out of the half, Detroit marched 66 yards in 11 plays and melted over six minutes off the clock— eventually kicking a short field goal to go up, 20-0. A three-and-out from the Packers in that ensuing scenario could have been the breaking point. Instead, Rodgers stepped up against a Lions blitz, using a good block from John Kuhn, and found Richard Rodgers for 26 yards and a first down. At the time, it was Green Bay's longest play of the game. It was the small spark needed for the coming fire. 

2. After undrafted rookie John Crockett rushed twice for 16 yards, James Starks caught a screen pass and rumbled 25 more yards to set up Green Bay with 1st-and-goal at Detroit's 8-yard line. Disaster was avoided on the next play, as Starks' wild fumble squirted into the end zone—where receiver Randall Cobb covered the ball and secured one of the ugliest—but most important—touchdowns of Green Bay's season. Amazingly, Starks lost control at about the 6-yard line, and while attempting to regain possession, he knocked the football forward with his hand and knee. It made it through a line of defenders to Cobb, who was four yards deep in the end zone. Of all the breaks Green Bay received on Thursday night, this was the most fortunate one.

3. On Detroit's first play from scrimmage after Cobb's recovery touchdown, Julius Peppers abused left tackle Riley Reiff and completed a strip-sack of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Rookie Jake Ryan recovered the fumble on Detroit's 12-yard line. Peppers has been a ghost for weeks, but he put a classic move on Reiff, feigning inside before exploding outside and getting around the corner. Stafford was moving away from Peppers in the pocket and preparing to throw, but the 36-year-old was able to rake across his arm and knock the ball loose before he completed the passing motion. Every comeback needs a takeaway.

4. The Packers had to convert the turnover into seven points, and that's exactly what Rodgers delivered. On third down from the 8-yard line, Rodgers initially drifted back in the pocket before simply flicking his wrist and delivering the perfect throw to Davante Adams. The struggling second-year receiver had gone a staggering 95 targets between touchdowns, but there was no chance for him to bungle this play. Matched up against a linebacker after motioning pre-snap, Adams won up the seam and split the two defenders. It wasn't terrible coverage from Detroit, but Rodgers' throw was flawless. It was the kind of toss that quickly reminds you Rodgers is still the game's most talented player at the position. 

5. Detroit had a chance to calm the waters and regain some footing on the next drive. Joique Bell picked up a 3rd-and-1 with a 6-yard run, but Green Bay forced another third down three plays later. The Packers got a huge stop after Stafford's throw to T.J. Jones was off the mark. A good throw and the Lions would have been in Green Bay territory with a first down and a golden chance to score more points. Instead, the Packers got off the field. 

6. An injury to David Bakhtiari left the Packers with four backups on the offensive line for the next series, which ended in a punt after history's most predictable third-down sack. The Packers defense was suddenly back on the field needing another stop. It was a wild possession. Peppers lined up offside on third down, negating a stop. Instead of punting, Detroit replayed the down and set up a manageble fourth down, which the Lions converted. Two plays later, Detroit could have iced the game. The Packers sent a blitz with Clay Matthews, who shot through the A-gap and forced a panic block from Bell. The officials missed a clear hold. Given an extra second to throw, Stafford went deep down the left sideline to Calvin Johnson, who had a step on Sam Shields. It was just a foot or two too far. The Lions eventually had to kick a field goal. 

7. Down nine points, the Packers had to put together a scoring drive. It got dicey when Detroit forced a fourth down after getting a stop on third and short. The Packers called timeout and found the right play to convert. It was a sprint right concept, with Starks motioning to the right and walling off the edge, and Cobb bursting into the flat for a quick hitter. It was open, and Cobb broke a tackle along the sideline to get 16 yards with 5:47 left. 

8. A field goal was an option for the Packers to finish the drive, and that looked like a likely outcome when the offense hit 3rd-and-11 from the Detroit 17-yard line. The Lions rushed four and played man-to-man coverage behind it. Rodgers, who turned 32 years old this week, recognized the man coverage down the field and escaped the pocket, taking off to the left side. The Lions' coverage had their backs to the quarterback, making it an easy sprint to the end zone. Rodgers outran Ziggy Ansah and a host of pass rushers for the score. 

9. The Packers failed in getting an immediate stop on the next series, allowing Stafford to complete a pass to T.J. Jones on third down to move the sticks. It was a perfect throw, and it needed to be to beat the coverage of rookie Quinten Rollins. But Green Bay did eventually force a punt, and Micah Hyde called for a fair catch at the Green Bay 21-yard line with 29 seconds left. Insanity ensued. After failing to hit Cobb down the sideline on first down and unable to get an defensive pass interference call on second down, the Packers had to resort to some trickery. Rodgers threw to James Jones, who lateraled back to Richard Rodgers, who threw back to Rodgers. While attempting to scramble around, Rodgers was tossed to the ground, seemingly ending the game. But officials called a facemask penalty on defensive end Devin Taylor, who made contact with Rodgers' mask while pulling him down. You can watch the play 100 times and look at 100 different screen grabs and you'll probably see both sides of the argument, both for and against the penalty. It was a bang-bang play, and Rodgers' head was clearly impacted by the contact. It's hard to fault the official for throwing the flag. 

10. One untimed down was all the Packers needed to create the craziest of finishes. Rodgers took the snap and first scrambled to his left. He then reversed field and received a block from Don Barclay, allowing him to escape into space to the right side. He then crow-hopped into his throw, uncorking a rainbow Hail Mary from the 35-yard line. The attempt hung in the air, for what felt like forever, as a mass of bodies assembled in the end zone. A lone straggler came in late. It was Richard Rodgers. At roughly the 5-yard line, Rodgers had his back to the throw as he was retreating. He said post-game that he needed to make sure he was in the end zone. He turned back around, re-discovering the football like a centerfielder tracking a deep fly ball, leaped in the air in front of the crowd and made the mostly uncontested catch in the end zone. Cobb was the first to pile on him in the end zone. Many others wearing gold hats and gold pants followed. Rodgers sprinted down the field, holding two arms in the air and removing his helmet in Favrian fashion. Packers 27, Lions 23. 

The Packers are now 8-4, winners of two of the last three games who now have 10 days to get ready for the Tony Romo-less Dallas Cowboys. That sure sounds better than 7-5 and losers of five of the last six. Ten plays helped the Packers write a different ending to the story Thursday night. 


Zach Kruse contributes to Cheesehead TV. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (58) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bohj's picture

Thought about any other play that would trump the ones you listed. Couldn't do it. Nice analysis! I'll read this a few times to forget about the first half altogether. Hopefully halftime was the exact turning point for this team.

Ibleedgreenmore's picture

I have to tell you this so reminded me of Favre when he won, the excitement was back in football. Was great to see some fire from several in this game.

zoellner25's picture

couldn't agree more, hopefully this ignites the fire this team needs. Even MM was beaming post-game, and he rarely shows emotion.

Packer_Pete's picture

our guy at least caught the ball :) saw the (deserved) smirk on the face...

4thand1's picture

pete When a coach says you forget about it and move on, he's full of shit, reffering to the failed mary.

Packer_Pete's picture

You are right 4th. And that NFCCG will stay with him for a long time as well, just as the fail mary

croatpackfan's picture

Well I think both of those ghosts are banished with this victory... Coming back from the lost game and win taken by the Hail Mary... I feel and hope this was the spark that energized the whole team and we will see Packers HOT, HOT, HOT in the next few months!

Ct Sharpe Cheddar's picture

Addams needs to see less of the field ,just too many drops.New bodies new spark.

NewNikeShoes's picture

Nah, the way I see it, he's lost confidence in himself.
Put him out on the field sparingly, and make sure he gets 2-4 targets a game. He'll slowly return to form

BELIEVER's picture

I agree that Adams needs to see less of the field, Jones also needs to sit. Younger guys are better. The defenses have figured Jones out. 5th receiver at best.

zoellner25's picture

One play on the 2nd to last 4th qtr drive I distinctly recall: Richard Rodgers catch on far sideline where he lowered to hit a guy right at first down marker, went out of bounds, the Ref inexplicably didn't stop the clock. Rewound it 4x to make sure I saw it right. We got screwed out of at least 20 seconds there. Horrendous call.

FrozenTundra's picture

I saw that and thought the same thing. One other thing a little off subject, I thought I saw MM holding the highlighted play sheets. Did I see that and is he back to calling plays?

MissKathy's picture

I saw the same, Tundra, and I do believe he orchestrated most of those last plays with Aaron & Co ad-libbing from there.
On a side note: McCarthy said in his podcast that he thinks he may have given Clements too much too soon. I say he's given him waaaaaaaay too much waaaaay too soon. Clements may turn into a creative play caller, but he is far from that now. IMO, the vanilla predictability is a direct result I hope McM takes a more active role going forward.
In the past, many have criticized McM's ability, but I think this season has proven just how spoiled we fans are. We demand perfection even when it's been standing on the sideline staring us in the face with a grizzled beard!

FrozenTundra's picture

One side note to that Miss,I just read that Tom Clements had the same deal when he was with Buffalo. OC and play caller. Miserable failure. Bottomed out big time in a year and a half. History does repeat itself.

The TKstinator's picture

Play calling play calling play calling playcalling
Play calling play calling play calling playcalling Play calling play calling play calling playcalling Play calling play calling play calling playcalling Play calling play calling play calling playcalling Play calling play calling play calling playcalling Play calling play calling play calling playcalling Play calling play calling play calling playcalling

ray nichkee's picture

As a packer fan looking through my green and gold glasses that catch is second only to the Freeman catch to beat the Vikings.

4thand1's picture

The Jennings catch on 3rd and 10 in the SB is my favorite. (4th quarter) Evereyone new it was coming, but it was thrown so perfect it couldn't be stopped. They got a finger on it.

croatpackfan's picture

I remember announcer said: "Ladies and Gentlemen that is how disbelief looks like!" while camera was showing Steelers DB on the ground with insane look in his eyes....

Nick Perry's picture

That 3rd down catch by Jennings I've watched 100's of times. Rodgers himself has said it was his best throw of the game and the catch by Jennings was just as good because the ball grazed of the tips of Taylors glove. That's up there for sure.

EdsLaces's picture

Freeman catch catch ever...

4thand1's picture

Why I rate the Rodgers to Jennings as my best ever is because of the situation. They would of had to punt with a ton a time left and give the Steelers really good field position. They were only up by 3 also, so if the Steelers score, they go up by 4 or tie it at least. Crunch time in the SB, PRICELESS!

Mojo's picture

The thing about the R Rodgers catch was it was fairly simple. No diving, no bouncing off another players hands or simultaneous catch. They did contact RR right after he secured it in his hands, but it was way to late by then. The Lions played it so poorly that it appeared they were all screened-out.

I think had RR not moseyed over there, Adams would have had more than a decent shot at it. In fact Cobb and JJ had their men screened-off too.

And then there were the two Lions players between their own 30 and 40 yard lines doing nothing.

Ct Sharpe Cheddar's picture

Adams would have dropped it

EdsLaces's picture

Adams probably would have dropped it, but man would it have done great things for his confidence if he was the one to snag it.

WinUSA's picture

I know you have to limit it to 10 plays... I just have to submit 2 more plays. The team metamorphosed from their zombie like play with the energy and enthusiasm that was emanating from John Crockett when he came into the game and his first two carry's for 16 yards was huge!

I know I shouldn't say this...being that it was just his first two carry's...but he reminded me of Barry Sanders.

Through the narrowest of holes he was through them in blazing speed and showed no hesitation when he made his moves...very, very, fluid. This kid can play.

Each time when he came back to the huddle he was hopping up and down like a retriever waiting to have his tennis ball was absolutely great to see!

I am coining him Johnny "Rocket" Crockett!

NewNikeShoes's picture

Never got to watch the game(FAKK ME), but did hear about Crockett.
I was high on him from the beginning, and he's living up to my expectations so far. The injury screwed him over hella.

Oppy's picture

Barry Sanders is perhaps the greatest runner of all time, he's definitely in the 3 man conversation.

One thing I never have equated to Barry Sanders was "No hesitation". There are backs that as soon as they have the rock, they just hit the hole. Barry Sanders will always be remembered in my mind as the master of hesitation and stutter stepping. I rarely remember him as a back who just hit the hole and got north and south instantly without hesitation- Barry was always getting lateral, making guys miss, and picking his way through garbage to find daylight.

D Ernesto's picture

Your analysis points out something: luck. Lucky bounce. lucky throw, lucky catch and dam lucky they played a four win team. Had it been anyone else this team would be in the loss column.

I'm happy and sad at the same time for packer fans. A win for the ages and yet, this team was steamrolled in the first half. Holes were open that a semi could have gone through, people were again out of place and our dbacks were in effective.

The O line is hurt. Rogers can only do so much. The running game is awful. No O line.

Pass rush is so so again. How many sacks did they get on Stafford? BJ Raji has to go. Totally worthless. Can't rush, can't stop the run, the one thing he is expected to do.

Bravo to MM or Clements for benching Rogers and Adams. They needed a message sent to them and it worked.

Now what. Team is in arrays. Lots of seams here.

Packer_Pete's picture

Who is Rogers? New guy on the team? And I don't think you watch football much. In a 3-4 D the NT occupies middle of the OL for LBs to make plays. If he can rush even better. But Raji does a decent job. Matthews and Ryan took the wrong gaps a couple of times. I first thought it was Raji but upon rewatching the game today he played well.

ray nichkee's picture

Yes, perfectly said. Raji is performing well in the least glorified position on the field. If you hear his name it probably ain't good.

Nick Perry's picture

Rajis job isn't to get sacks, you know that right? Raji's job is to eat up blockers, when he's playing well at least 2 of them which he does. When they do single him up he normally stuffs the run.

The TKstinator's picture

"Team is in arrays"...what language is that?

EdsLaces's picture

I got chillz...

LeagueObsrvr's picture

Off topic:
According to ProFootballTalk, Lacy's demotion and Harris' release was because both players missed curfew Wednesday night in Detroit.

DrealynWilliams's picture

If true, I love it. Absolutely love it.


Bohj's picture

This makes me happy.
This is exactly how the coaches should handle this. Especially the whole, handling it internally part.
Really hope Lacy figures out that this season really determines his football career moving forward. Get with the program kid. We need you and are rooting for you.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Just finished watching the entire game.

I see what a lot of you like in Jake Ryan. But that was the Lions. I hope he starts next game and can continue to help this defense. He actually attacks would-be blocks and ball carriers instead of waiting for contact.

Wrs did a bit better in the route running and Rodgers still missed too many passes (the ones he usually hits).

Starks is a gifted runner. Really gifted. I wish he had better hands though and pass blocked better. I'd prefer starting him and letting Lacy or the Crockett finish late game.

Play calling is not the issue. Remember that reverse play? It should've been a big play. Left side blocking was horrible. The only mark I'd give MM or TC that game is for that toss play on 3rd & 1 and only running Lacy out of Shotgun (but I don't know if Rodgers is changing it). I still like Lacy.

Talking about the Defense would be nitpicking. They've saved this team in all but 2 games (yes, only 2 games). Even the loss to the Bears was only 17 points.

Oh yea, right as Rodgers' threw the Hail Mary one of the announcers said, "...does he have a vintage moment..." -- I had the biggest grin on my face.

porupack's picture

DrealynW; Since I've harped on Game strategy (not play callin) as a major issue all year, I think a lot of posters and I felt there was a lot more mixing up, and creative efforts on O. Yes, some didn't work, but we were happy to see the players given new opportunities.
There was stuff not to like, but definitely some kudos to coaches for adjustments and personnel moves.

DrealynWilliams's picture

A lot more? I didn't think so. Outside of that new wrinkle (formation) I can't say I've seen anything else new. MM & TC have been trying tons of things to get this offense rolling. The players have been so inconsistent that no matter what play was called or what type of gameplan was created nothing seemed to work.

I say Kudos for:
The coaches benching of previous starters (Lacey and Palmer)
Richard Rodgers stepping up and playing to his size
The Defense staying agreesive
Aaron Rodgers showing up in the clutch
Cobb doing enough

RCPackerFan's picture

I noticed changes in this game. They put WRs in motion a lot more. They ran more stacked formations. They actually attacked the middle of the field. There was changes made.

That set of plays that they ran with Cobb motioning into the backfield was terrific... The screen pass off of that was pure genius. It caught everyone by surprise. If they can run more plays like that, it will be a huge boost for this offense.
That being said, while I like the play design I think they would have executed the reverse a lot better had they ran that play before the run play in that same play design. The defense seemed to expect the reverse and was playing for it.

Overall it was a better performance. Still have a ways to go. But it's a good start.

alaskan tundra's picture

Greetings from Alaska
Long time first time.
Just want to put my 2 cents worth. One game rarely changes a season much less one play. And I have been as frustrated as any of you for all of the same reasons that are well stated on here. But that being said if this win doesnt propell them forward than truly nothing will.
Kudos to signing Crockett. That guy was a sparplug, he was literally shaking with anticipation and added some much needed energy to the offense. And finally we see Jake Ryan again. What took so long is my only question. That kid is a football player, and has a real nose for the ball. Loved seeing him flying around the field. Led the team in tackles and was all over that fumble. I like Rollins too, think he has alot of potential.
Yes we stunk it up for 21/2 quarters and I was ready to throw in the towel for the season. But football is a funny game played with a funny looking funny bouncing ball. You never know which way a season or the ball will bounce. Still lots of glaring issues on offense, but Ill take the W and worry about it later.
For now both the team and the fans can enjoy this one for a while while the team heals up and gets ready for the Cowboys.
Here in Alaska we give new meaning to the term " the frozen tundra" baby!
Since 64
Go Pack Go

porupack's picture

welcome to the site A-tundra. Yep, we lost some games that should have been wins b/c of one crazy play. Now we win one that probably should have been loss. All and all, a team has to string em together over 16 games....and well, we just might. I was encouraged by a number of changes this before and during this game. I agree on Crockett. I thought he was better than Harris and was more of a change-up style runner, and couldn't understand why he was cut in pre-season. Glad he's on. Something about those UDFAs.

4thand1's picture

Just heard the Packers brought in Monte Ball for a workout. WTF is going on with Lacy?

porupack's picture

4th-1;That is astounding news. That is the big question of questions this year.
While it could be injury as many suggest, if we recall from the first game, there were concerns about his weight and effort. It seems to me that Lacy has become too tentative in the backfield. While its good to wait for blocks to develop, it seems you sometimes have to hit the hole hard to keep defense off. I think he got too predictable with stutter steps in the backfield. For a guy his size, he didn't utilize it in the Frank Gore mode of pounding hard and low.
While I like Starks, I think he and Lacy aren't drastically different style runners, so again, there isn't enough variability in the backfield and defenses can begin to set up for a Lacy/Starks running combo. But get someone more elusive/quick "slasher" type, then it seems it benefits all running backs. So that could have some influence on Lacy's (and Stark's) modest production.
Enter Crockett, I would like to see him and Lacy lined up in the backfield, and after a few more Crocket 16 yard runs, I'd bet Lacy's numbers would go up.

Tundraboy's picture

Great observations. I agree. No more shotgun runs. Use the FB to pave the way and I too would like to see Lacy and Crockett. Starks and Crockett combinations.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Uh oh!

I might have to get rid of my Lacy Jersey shirt. I knew I should've gotten Cobb's.

I didn't follow Montee much, so I can't say much about the possible pickup.

I wonder if it's deeper than Lacy just allegedly missing curfew??? We already ruled out any possible injury.

RCPackerFan's picture

Exactly. That's the million dollar question right now. Maybe there was more going on behind the scenes with Harris then what we know about. Perhaps having a really negative effect on Lacy. I can't believe that the Packers would cut him for missing a curfew and have no interest in resigning the guy to the practice squad.

I haven't seen anything but does Ball have PS eligibility? Perhaps they are looking to add him to the PS.

DrealynWilliams's picture

"I can't believe that the Packers would cut him for missing a curfew and have no interest in resigning the guy to the practice squad."

Right? Especially when everyone except the Packers thought he was the better back between Neal and Crockett after the Pre Season.

Oppy's picture

The article states that Ball does have veteran exemption PS eligibility

Mags's picture

No worries they won't sign him. They brought in WR Darius Moore a week or two ago didn't sign him, they had safety D.J. Swearinger in last week didn't sign him, and now Ball who left without anything happening. Its just Ted being Ted I guess.

DrealynWilliams's picture

If ultimately this help Lacey in the long run -- I'll take that.

Dan Stodola's picture

Its called kicking the tires. Wolf made a habit of it. Pretty much every tues or Wed he brought guys in that he had no intention of signing. You do it to keep your files up to date on all available players, in case you have an emergency situation or if a guy you liked didn't work out on another team. Talk to him, put him thru a physical, check his medical situation if one exists. Wolf did it alot and nobody cared that he rarely signed anyone, but some criticize Thompson for it.

It means nothing for Lacy right now. Other than hopefully he takes it as a hint/reminder that his contract isn't guaranteed and maybe he decides to drop about 20 lbs!

alaskan tundra's picture

Thanks Porupack
I agree.

porupack's picture

Thanks Zach, for reminder of the key moments. Amazingly, I forgot all about the bizarre fumble touchdown...but I suppose understandable considering the final play.

GBP fans have to sort of respect Detro fans, if you consider how long they've survived the drought in Michigan, and to be on the losing side in most headline grabbing ways over the years. To lose on Thursday after building just a glimmer of hope, must have been black Friday east side of the lake. We should rent a billboard and some cheery words, or send Christmas cheese.

MissKathy's picture

Thanks, Zach, for a clear breakdown of the plays that might be the turning point in our season.
I am of the opinion that talent is only half of what makes a team greatly successful. The other half is heart & passion. If this game doesn't instill that in this team, nothing will.

WKUPackFan's picture

Zach, the fluidity of your writing is a pleasure to read. Well done!

Dan Stodola's picture

Just thought I would point out that R. Rodgers didn't do his job on the hail mary play. It was his job to block out so Adams (the guy w/ the supposed great vertical we've never seen) could be the guy to make the leaping catch.

Many here last year criticized another TE for not doing his job, Brandon Bostic. At that time, I didn't criticize Bostic for trying to make a play. Very sure I was the ONLY one, while everyone else harped Bostic has to do his job, no matter what he has to do his job.

Seems curious that NO ONE is being critical of R. Rodgers for not doing his on the Hail Mary. R. Rodgers wasn't even close to being in position to do his job (probably becuz his slow azz couldn't get there in time). At least Bostic was in position to do his job and make the block if he hadn't decided to try to make a play. More than Rodgers can say! He couldn't even get himself in position to block out for Adams.

So much for any sort of rational thought on this site. LOL

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Nice compilation. We also got a break when the officials didn't flag Bakh for his blatant hold on the Hail Mary pass.

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