GREEN BAY—The Packers are back in familiar territory, near the top of the NFC North standings, and Coach Mike McCarthy talked about his team taking its game to a higher level.
"We're 2-2. We're even. That's how I look at it. We need to get a road win. It's time to step up to another level. We've improved every week. That's what I like," McCarthy said following the Packers' 22-9 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
It marked the Lions' 23rd consecutive loss to the Packers on Wisconsin soil, and it was aided by the absence of star wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Without him, the Lions offense was a shadow of the unit that combined with the Packers to set yardage records two years ago at Lambeau Field.
"Any time a player like Calvin Johnson goes out of the game, you definitely have to adjust your thinking, but football is still football," McCarthy said.
"It definitely changes their offense. Not having him out there definitely helped us," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Johnson's absence allowed the Packers to patiently wear down the Lions' defense with a running game that gets better by the week. Eddie Lacy came one yard shy of giving the Packers a 100-yard rusher for the third consecutive game, and the Packers finished the game having rushed for 180 yards and dominating time of possession by nearly five minutes.
At the heart of the Packers' play on offense was a dominant performance by center Evan Dietrich-Smith and guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton. They limited Lions defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to one tackle for a loss.
"Evan, Josh and T.J., they're blue collar types. I've always referred to those guys as the core of our offense. Their play was vital. Everybody knows the importance of Suh and Fairley. That was the focus of our starting point," McCarthy said.
The Packers ran the ball 33 times vs. 30 pass attempts, and that balance slowly caused the Lions to commit more defenders to the line of scrimmage and play tighter pass coverages.
"I'm happy with the way we're running the ball. It helps our quarterback. Our ability to run the ball … as the coverages got tighter, we were able to attack," McCarthy said.
The big play of the game was an 83-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to James Jones in the third quarter. At the time, the Packers were clinging to a 9-3 lead and the longer the Lions hung around, the quieter Lambeau Field grew. The tension was building for fans still smarting for a fourth-quarter collapse in Cincinnati two weeks ago.
Mason Crosby split the uprights with authority from 26, 52, 42 and 45 yards. He kept the pressure on a Lions offense struggling to score, until Rodgers could deliver the knockout punch.
Rodgers did that with a second-half performance that included 186 yards passing. He would've thrown two touchdown passes to Jones, had replay not reversed what had been ruled a 27-yard touchdown reception by Jones in the fourth quarter.
"Our big-play production was a little off. I was very pleased with our approach and our patience," McCarthy said.
The Packers defense allowed the Packers to be patient on offense. They held quarterback Matt Stafford under 200 yards passing until a garbage-time touchdown drive with 2:06 to play. Jordy Nelson recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Packers were within a half game of NFC North leaders Detroit and Chicago, each at 3-2. Complete game coverage