Game Notes: Finley Finally Finds End Zone

The Packers tried it at Tennessee and again at Jacksonville without success. But the third time running a short fade at the goal line was the charm for rookie tight end Jermichael Finley. - More Packers-Lions Game Center

The Packers tried it at Tennessee and again at Jacksonville without success. But the third time running a short fade at the goal line was the charm for rookie tight end Jermichael Finley.

Finley's 3-yard TD reception over safety Daniel Bullocks late in the first quarter on Sunday was his first NFL score, and it came on the same fade pattern that had failed twice on the road this season. Both times previously, Aaron Rodgers' throw looked to be in good shape but Finley had either mis-timed his jump or not made the proper adjustment to the ball.

This time it worked smoothly, and on the Packers' next possession on Sunday Finley caught another fade pass down the left sideline for 26 yards. That play was a carbon copy of a 35-yard reception Finley made last Monday night in Chicago, as the rookie finished an up-and-down season showing on the game field the kind of talent and production he often showed in practice.

"Jermichael Finley just keeps getting better every time he takes the field," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Everyone talks about the rookie wall and Jermichael Finley, when that wall was supposed to hit, he just kept getting better and better.

"I'm proud of him. He's a young man that has a bright future. He continues to work and get better and it's nice to see him have success on Sundays because that's the type of player we've seen for quite some time during practice."

Finley went through some growing pains as a rookie, particularly following the Tennessee game when he criticized a couple of Rodgers' throws to him and questioned how the coaching staff was using him in the offense.

In addition to having a conversation with McCarthy following that, he said veteran cornerback Al Harris actually pulled him aside and advised him to mind his mouth.

"As a young player, yeah, I learned a lot of lessons," Finley said. "Just keep your mouth shut and play the game."

If his last two games in 2008, when he posted three catches for 64 yards, are a sign of things to come in 2009, Finley's play will do plenty of talking.

"Everyone is excited about his ability and the potential he brings to our football team," McCarthy said. "Now we're seeing him develop into the playmaker that we all felt and believed he can be. I'm just excited about his ability and I'm real excited about his future."

Lucky sevens

Cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins each snagged their seventh interceptions of the season on Sunday, giving the Packers two players with at least seven picks in the same season for the first time since 1984.

Back then, it was rookie safety Tom Flynn with nine interceptions and second-year corner Tim Lewis with seven.

Woodson got his interception first, picking off a Dan Orlovsky pass in the first quarter that led to Finley's touchdown. Collins nearly had one in the first half when a deflected pass slipped right through his hands, but he came back to get his late in the fourth quarter, picking off a deep ball intended for Calvin Johnson at the goal line.

"I could never pull away from him this year," Woodson said of the friendly competition for team leader in the category. "Every time I get one he comes right behind me and gets one. We got our hands on a lot of balls this year, which made it a lot of fun, but it's too bad we couldn't turn them into (more) wins."

The Packers finished the season with 22 interceptions, one shy of the team total in 2006, when Woodson led the defense with eight.

Collins returned his final interception on Sunday 37 yards to extend his own single-season franchise-record and league-leading total to 295 interception return yards. Collins returned three picks for touchdowns this season.

Almost a record

In a rare sequence of events at the end of the first half, Packers kicker Mason Crosby nearly set an NFL record for longest field goal.

The Lions were punting with 7 seconds remaining in the half, and Green Bay's Will Blackmon made a fair catch - slipping and falling flat on his back - at the Packers' 41-yard line as time expired. Players began to leave the field but were called back by referee Ed Hochuli because the fair catch allowed the Packers to try a free kick.

The Packers lined up essentially in kickoff formation, but with backup quarterback Matt Flynn holding the ball for Crosby. His long boot came up just short of the crossbar, landing on the endline in the back of the end zone. Had Crosby cleared the crossbar, it would have been a 69-yard field goal and a new NFL record, breaking the current mark for longest field goal of 63 yards.

"I don't know how close it was, but it looked like a couple more yards and Mason would have had it," said McCarthy, who added that he had used all three of his first-half timeouts on Detroit's previous possession with the fair-catch/free-kick rule in mind.

"It was worth a shot. Mason has a strong leg. We were probably about at the limit there. But we watched the flag and the flag was still gusting pretty strong. The decision was really based on if he could get it up in the wind and it could carry."

{sportsad300}Milestones just missed

On a day several Packers reached significant milestones, two came up just short.

Defensive end Aaron Kampman was not able to get the half-sack he needed to give him three straight seasons with double-digits in sacks. Only Reggie White and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila have posted three straight seasons with 10-or-more sacks since the statistic became official in 1982. Kampman finished 2007 with 9 1/2 sacks.

Tight end Donald Lee also did not get the one catch he needed for 40 on the season. Lee was on the verge of becoming the first Green Bay tight end to post back-to-back 40-receptions seasons since Jackie Harris in 1992-93, but he finished with 39 catches.

Opponents set

With Sunday's season-ending results, the Packers now know their full slate of opponents for 2009.

Finishing in third place in the NFC North, Green Bay will play the third-place teams from the NFC East (Dallas) and NFC South (Tampa Bay). The Cowboys will travel to Lambeau Field and the Packers will play the Buccaneers on the road.

The rest of the Packers' schedule outside of six NFC North games will be four contests against the AFC North teams (Baltimore and Cincinnati at home, Cleveland and Pittsburgh on the road) and four against the NFC West squads (Seattle and San Francisco at home, St. Louis and Arizona on the road).

Injury update

The Packers sustained two injuries on the offensive line that forced more shuffling up front.

Center Scott Wells left late in the first quarter with a sprained ankle, which forced Jason Spitz to move from left guard to center, and Allen Barbre to take over at left guard. Then Barbre sprained his ankle in the second half, so Daryn Colledge moved from right tackle to left guard and Tony Moll came into the game at right tackle.

Also, safety Aaron Rouse left the game in the second quarter with a sprained knee and was replaced by Charlie Peprah.

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