GREEN BAY—The popular belief is that Thursday's game in Detroit is a must win for the Packers.
"It's a must win for us, too," Lions star wide receiver Calvin Johnson said on Tuesday during a conference call with Packers media.
The 6-5 Lions host the 5-5-1 Packers in a game that could decide the outcome of the NFC North title race. The Lions are on a two-game losing streak. The Packers are on a four-game winless streak. The 6-5 Bears will watch.
"Too many turnovers for us. If we can eliminate those, we can turn those losses into W's. You want to get the bad taste out of your mouth. We just need to get out there and play again soon," Johnson said.
Lions quarterback Matt Stafford is coming off a four-interception game. His fourth and deciding interception was a result of Johnson having allowed what should've been a long completion jump out of his hands and into the hands of a Tampa Bay defender. It sealed the Bucs' win.
It was an atypical drop by Johnson, the game's definitive big-play receiver. He's caught 66 passes for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns. None of those catches, however, were against the Packers earlier this season, when the Lions fell on Wisconsin soil again, 22-9.
Would it have been a different outcome had Johnson played in that game? He sat out the game with a knee injury.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm not going to call it because it's neither here nor there saying that we would have won the game, but it definitely would have been a closer matchup."
Johnson and the Lions will have a chance on Thursday to do something they haven't done since 2010: Beat the Packers. The Packers have won five straight against the Lions. This one, however, has special meaning for the Lions. It's their golden opportunity to wrest control of the NFC North from the team that's owned the division for the past several years.
"Since Rodgers has been hurt, Green Bay has had some struggles. Chicago has lost a few, we've lost our last two, so everybody is sort of in the same boat right now and you need to come out with a win. I think everybody in the North has two division games left and this is one of them, so obviously it means a lot to us. It's not only a chance to get a win, but put a loss on one of our main competitors. It's Thanksgiving, it's a great tradition here in Detroit and we're going to need to play our best on Thursday," Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz said.
How do the Packers stop Johnson? That's as much a burning question as the question of Aaron Rodgers' availability for this game, which Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy pretty much squashed on Tuesday, despite Rodgers having practiced for the first time since fracturing his collarbone against the Bears on Nov. 4.
"Usually, I'll see Tramon and he'll carry me around the field. Whether they do that this game or not, we'll see," Johnson said.
Packers cornerback Tramon Williams has had as much or more success against Johnson as any cornerback in the league. In the 2011 Thanksgiving game, Williams held Johnson to four catches for 49 yards and one touchdown, much of that after the outcome had been decided. Will Williams be the guy in this Thanksgiving Day game, or will Johnson see the Packers' other cornerback, Sam Shields, in coverage? Shields is the Packers' No. 1 cover man and he was back to full participation in practice on Tuesday after missing two games with a hamstring injury.
"Sam is getting better. He's continuing to grow and he's a good cover corner. Like I said, he's a good, speedy guy playing well, but we have to get at him on Thursday," Johnson said.
How the Packers defend against Johnson will likely go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. Additional coverage - Nov. 26