DETROIT—The Green Bay Packers are getting hot at the right time of the season.
Following Sunday's dramatic, 24-20, come-from-behind win over the Detroit Lions, the Packers will move into a first-place tie with the Chicago Bears if the Bears lose in San Francisco on Monday night. It would be the icing on a five-game winning streak that has brought the Packers back from the ice-cold depths of 2-3 to become one of the league's hottest teams at 7-3.
"Good teams win these kinds of games," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought we grew as a team. It's about winning and it's about growing. I thought we did both."
The Packers grew at just the right time on Sunday. They began a drive at their 18-yard line with 4:25 to play and trailing the Lions, 20-14. All of a sudden, an offense that had spent most of the day stalled, shifted into high gear.
Aaron Rodgers threw a short pass to Jermichael Finley that Finley turned into a 40-yard gain. Three plays later, Rodgers pitched a 22-yard game-winner to Randall Cobb, who made a twisting catch of a pass Rodgers said wasn't his best.
"I didn't really throw the best ball there, but I gave him a chance and he made an incredible catch," Rodgers said.
That left the deal for the defense to close, with 1:48 to play and the Lions needing only a field goal to win. What followed were four consecutive incompletions. It allowed Mason Crosby to do something that has become problematic for him: kick a field goal.
"It means were 7-3 and we gave our guys another week to get healthy," Rodgers said when asked to put the win into perspective. "Our defense has to have a lot of confidence. You have to have a defense to make a championship run. Gotta feel really good about that."
The Packers are starting to get that championship feeling again, after a late-season slump last year that resulted in a one-and-done postseason and carried over into this season with three losses in the Packers' first five games. It was a slump that was causing some to doubt what the Packers had established during a 19-game winning streak.
"I was very impressed with our defense, especially our young guys. They just get better every week," McCarthy said.
Young defensive backs Casey Hayward and M.D. Jennings intercepted passes, Jennings returning his interception 72 yards for a touchdown that erased a 10-7 Lions halftime lead and gave the Packers a 14-10 edge in the third quarter.
The Lions quickly erased that with a Stafford to Calvin Johnson touchdown pass, and upped their lead to 20-14 following a Jason Hanson field goal, but that's when crunch time arrived and that's when the Packers offense became prolific again.
"It's part of who they are," McCarthy said when asked why it seems some players play their best football during the most tense moments of the game. "We knew it was going to be a tough game."
"We just had to have it," Rodgers said of the Packers' game-winning drive. "We talked on the sideline. We said if our defense holds, we need to make the most of it. When it meant the most, we came through."
Cobb's role and contribution increases weekly. He's at the point of sharing top billing with Rodgers.
"Randall is a big-time player. He's going to be a big part of our offense," said Rodgers, who added that he made a slight adjustment at the line of scrimmage in the play that ultimately resulted in Cobb's game-winning catch.
It was a play that capped a drive that cancelled an otherwise disappointing day for the offense.
"We didn't have any rhythm on offense," said Rodgers, who was sacked three times and hurried repeatedly by a Lions front that began to dominate the line of scrimmage in the second half.
"It's a tough front four," Rodgers said.
"They had penetration. They gave us a hard time. We'll learn from this," McCarthy said.
His team will grow even more, he hopes. Additional coverage - Nov. 18