GREEN BAY – The Packers have undergone a lot of change since first facing the Lions back in Week 5, but Detroit isn’t the same team, either, under first-year coach Matt Patricia.
Three of the Lions’ arguably four or five top offensive playmakers from their victory over the Packers at Ford Field 2½ months ago will not be at Lambeau Field for the rematch on Sunday.
Running back Kerryon Johnson, who had 70 yards on 12 carries back in Week 5, and receiver Marvin Jones Jr., who caught a TD pass, are on injured reserve, and fellow receiver Golden Tate (five catches, 42 yards) has been traded.
Second-year receiver Kenny Golladay is now Detroit’s unquestioned top offensive weapon, while the ground game has been turned over to LeGarrette Blount and Zach Zenner.
Packers interim head coach Joe Philbin on Wednesday pointed to Detroit’s team defense, which had playoff-hopeful Minnesota shut out for the first 28 minutes of last week’s game, as the unit playing the best for the Lions and Patricia right now despite the Lions falling out of contention with seven losses in their last nine games.
“They were up 9-0 on a good football team and had them third-and-17 with a buck-something left in the half,” Philbin said of last week’s Vikings-Lions game. Minnesota converted the third-and-long to get a quick score and then hit a Hail Mary before halftime, deflating Detroit in an eventual 27-9 defeat.
“They were playing extremely well on the defensive side of the ball, and the opponent made a couple plays. They’re playing good football and we’ll have to play well.”
That continues to be the message in the Packers’ locker room as Green Bay wraps up its second straight playoff-less season.
Philbin has a chance to go 3-1 as the interim coach to finish the season, but he is keeping the focus off him and on the players as 2018 winds down.
“I told the team this morning, at 5 o’clock Monday this will be a ghost town. It ends rapidly,” he said. “Whether you finish the season as the Super Bowl champ, lose in ‘X’ round of the playoffs or don’t get to the playoffs … bam, all of a sudden it’s over.
“We have an opportunity to put together one final game. I told them they’ll never regret finishing a season strong … we have five more days to tee this thing up, get this thing right and finish the right way.”