GREEN BAY—Just to recover Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford's second-quarter fumble would have been a momentum-shifting play.
But rookie defensive lineman Mike Daniels turned it into a game-changing one, scooping up the ball and rumbling his squat, 294-pound frame 43 yards for a TD that kick-started the Packers' comeback in a 27-20 victory over the Lions on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
"That was the biggest play in the game," fellow defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. "They were driving the ball. We hadn't stopped them yet. That was the turning point in the game. Big play. You've got to be happy for the rookie to make a play like that."
Detroit led 14-3 and had just crossed midfield for the third time in three possessions when the well-protected Stafford lost the handle on the ball as he tried to throw. Stafford dove to the ground to recover it but couldn't corral it, and there was Daniels to pick it up, bounce off a tackle attempt by offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus and then race untouched for his first touchdown since playing running back as a senior at Highland Regional High in Blackwood, N.J.
"Whenever I smell the end zone, I've got to get in," Daniels said. "I had to bring back those old skills, if that's what you want to call them."
The defensive score was the Packers' second against the Lions in two games this season. Three weeks ago in Detroit, safety M.D. Jennings' 72-yard interception return for a touchdown carried similar significance. On Sunday, Stafford's gaffe and Daniels' opportunism energized the 70,382 in attendance as well as everyone on the Green Bay sideline.
"That's what everybody was telling me, that we needed that," said Daniels, who became the first Packers rookie defensive lineman since Ernie Pannell in 1941 to return a fumble for a TD. "That was a big play. I was just thinking about trying to catch my breath because I knew we had to get back on the field, but it's just good to bring that extra juice to turn things around at a pivotal point in the game."
'Picking' up where he left off: Eight weeks ago, cornerback Sam Shields got his first interception of the season on a Sunday night game in Houston, and then was promptly injured on the next play when he got kicked in the lower leg.
He'd been out of action since with shin and ankle injuries, until Sunday, when he snagged another interception, this one on a Stafford deep ball intended for receiver Kris Durham. Coupled with Daniels' big play, that gave the Packers defense two turnovers in two straight possessions with the team trailing and the Lions driving.
"It was like he hadn't missed a beat," safety Morgan Burnett said of Shields, who got the lion's share of playing time as an outside corner in the nickel and dime packages over Davon House. "It was fun having Sam back out there. He brings a lot of humor to our defense and he's always out there smiling, playing the game like he's a little kid."
Burnett explained what he meant by humor.
"There are times where everyone is intense, and then Sam might break a little joke to break the ice – 'It's just a game, it's football.' You enjoy watching him play, because he plays with passion but he has fun with it."
Minimal damage: Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson continued his quest to break Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards with 10 catches for 118 yards, but a solid night from cornerback Tramon Williams helped limit the damage.
Johnson didn't have a catch longer than 20 yards, and Williams broke up a couple of deep balls to him. Williams drew the assignment of guarding Johnson most of the game, usually with help from a deep safety.
"We didn't let him kill us," Williams said. "We kept him in front of us and didn't let him get big plays, so it was definitely a productive day.
"Facing a guy like that definitely brings out the best in you. If it (doesn't), you're probably going to have a long day if you aren't ready to go. I was definitely ready to go and do my part out there today."
Johnson, who has gone over 100 yards in six straight games and nine times overall this season, now has 1,546 receiving yards on the year. He needs 302 yards over the last three games to match Rice's mark of 1,848 yards in 1995.
Repeat performance: In the Sunday night win over Houston in Week 6, Packers receiver Randall Cobb set a career-high with 102 yards receiving on seven receptions.
His numbers on Sunday night against Detroit: 102 yards on seven receptions.
Cobb made a highlight-reel grab good for 24 yards in the third quarter, when he leaped for a high pass near the sideline and tipped it back to himself with his right hand. It might have been his best catch of the season, if not his career.
He was still kicking himself over a play earlier in the third quarter, though, when quarterback Aaron Rodgers went deep to him on a free play, but Cobb dropped what might have been a 40-yard catch. The Lions were called for being offside and for roughing the passer on the play.
"I still left some plays out there," Cobb said. "If I could have made that catch on that free play, it could have been a bigger game. I'm always looking to get better." Additional coverage - Packers vs. Lions