GREEN BAY—Mike McCarthy made his MVP pitch for Aaron Rodgers.
"Aaron Rodgers is the leader of our football team. In my opinion, he's the most valuable player in the NFL. I think it's clear what he means to our football team," McCarthy said following a 30-20 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday that clinched the Packers' fourth consecutive NFC North title. Just as importantly, the win gave the Packers a bye in the first round of the playoffs and a home date in round two.
In a game shown across the country, Rodgers' dramatic return from a calf injury that caused him to be carted from the field before halftime, will likely resonate loud enough and hard enough to make Rodgers an easy pick to claim his second MVP. He completed 17 of 22 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and a 139.6 passer rating, in a sanitized version of the Packers offense.
"I don't think we moved him around. Did everything from the pocket, kept him the gun. He did a helluva job," McCarthy said of Rodgers, who limped into the game and then collapsed in the second quarter when his left calf gave out on him while throwing a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the second quarter. He played on the injured calf in Tampa last Sunday.
Drama, thy name is Rodgers, and the drama was sharpened late in the game when Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh stepped on Rodgers' injured calf as Rodgers lie on the ground. Suh appeared to back up onto the calf.
"He'll probably say it was an accident. We'll see," Rodgers said.
Did Suh step on the injured spot?
"It was close," Rodgers said.
McCarthy was asked by a reporter, "Is Suh the dirtiest player you've ever played against?"
McCarthy said he had yet to see replay of the play, but "I've been told it's ridiculous. There's no place for that. I don't understand it, frankly," McCarthy said.
The win avenged a 19-7 loss in Detroit in Week 3, when the Packers were outplayed up front by what would become the No. 1 run defense in the NFL. On that day, the Packers gained only 76 yards against what amounted to a six-man front. Against that same defensive scheme on Sunday, the Packers rushed for exactly twice as many yards, with Eddie Lacy rushing for an even 100 yards on 26 carries.
"That was the plan … make sure he touched it 20 times. Our offensive line looked forward to the challenge all week," McCarthy said. "I thought our physicality was superior to our opponent's. Our players did a good job executing the plan."
The Packers got out to a 14-0 lead and were dominating the action but, following Rodgers' injury, the Lions scored on their last drive of the first half and on their first drive of the second half, tying the score and causing anxiety among the 78,408 in Lambeau Field.
That's when Rodgers returned to the game. Rodgers pitched a 13-yard touchdown pass to Cobb and then scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
"I didn't feel the quarterback sneak fell into the stupid category. He (McCarthy) might disagree," Rodgers said.
"Aaron Rodgers, I don't know what to say about him coming back from the calf injury and on a limited game plan. It was clearly another MVP performance by Aaron Rodgers. I think the two weeks is huge for us," McCarthy said, referring to the bye and hosting a game in the second round on a field on which the Packers are 8-0 this season.
"This is a championship football team. We stay true to the thing we feel we do very well. We've been playing offense like this four, five, six weeks now. I really think this is part of our identity," McCarthy added. "This is playoff football now. Everything changes. Playing at home doesn't guarantee anything, but it's where we want to play."
COMPLETE GAME COVERAGE
The Green Bay Packers faced off against the Detroit Lions in the 2014 regular season finale at Lambeau Field. Photos by Jim Biever, Packers.com.