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Packers 'find a way' again, get big playoff reward

First-round bye almost slipped away vs. Lions

WR Davante Adams, QB Aaron Rodgers
WR Davante Adams, QB Aaron Rodgers

DETROIT – At least Matt LaFleur hasn't lost his sense of humor.

"I hope we kept that interesting for everybody," LaFleur joked just moments after the Packers pulled off a wild comeback for a last-second 23-20 victory over the Lions at Ford Field.

"That was a tough game, man. I don't really know what to say right now. That's life in the National Football League."

Indeed it is, as the Packers had a first-round playoff bye on the line and were taken to the wire by a three-win division opponent.

Down 17-3 at half with almost nothing going for him, quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw two touchdown passes and directed two drives for field goals in the second half, the last one a 68-yard march in one minute, 20 seconds to set up Mason Crosby's walk-off 33-yarder for the win.

With the victory, the Packers ended the regular season 13-3 and secured that first-round bye. Whether Green Bay will be the No. 1 or 2 seed in the NFC will be determined later Sunday night, depending on the result of the San Francisco-Seattle showdown for the NFC West title.

The rally came after a start that LaFleur called "absolutely … flat in every phase." Dropped passes, off-target throws, missed tackles and a trick play by the Lions (3-12-1) for a touchdown all contributed to the big deficit.

LaFleur's halftime message was to "stay with it" and focus on the job on every play. Rodgers kept trying for deep shots and wasn't awfully successful, though he did hit on two, touchdowns of 20 and 28 yards to Davante Adams and Allen Lazard.

Both scores came on third-and-10 plays, and the latter tied up the score at 20 with 5:19 left.

"I think the tempo helped," Rodgers said. "Tempo allowed us to kind of get into some simple stuff. Some minor adjustments helped us out."

So did the defense, which shook off a rough first half to hold the Lions to just four first downs and three points in the second half. Detroit's three running backs combined for 160 yards on the ground, but just 48 of those came after halftime.

Rookie QB David Blough (12-of-29, 122 yards, 39.7 rating) threw an interception to linebacker Blake Martinez midway through the fourth quarter to set up the game-tying drive, and the defense got two stops in the last four minutes to get Rodgers the ball back.

"They kept us in the game," LaFleur said of the defense. "I know there's a lot to clean up, but those guys battled for four quarters and left everything out there. They did a great job when we needed them to and made the plays."

The Green Bay Packers faced off against the Detroit Lions in the 2019 regular-season finale at Ford Field.

Running back Aaron Jones finished with 100 yards rushing on 25 carries and Adams led the receivers with seven catches for 93 yards. The offense played a good portion of the game down two offensive linemen, with veterans Lucas Patrick and Jared Veldheer subbing for center Corey Linsley (back) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion), respectively, and getting the job done.

Both LaFleur and Rodgers admitted they were exhausted at game's end, and they certainly weren't alone. The Packers ran 86 offensive plays and threw the ball 55 times. Rodgers finished with 323 yards passing but just a 72.0 rating with an interception on a deep ball and just under 50% completion rate.

He said he actually felt good about a lot of his throws that went just a couple of yards awry, so he had no real explanation for a rather inaccurate day, other than to say things were "just a little bit off."

But Rodgers dialed in on the final drive, getting an extra 15 yards on a short scramble when he took an illegal hit from Lions safety Tavon Wilson on a slide. Then, with Lazard out of the game due to injury, he hit two passes for another first down.

The last of Rodgers' 27 completions was a screen to Jones with under a minute left that the running back broke for 31 yards to get the Packers into field-goal range.

From there it was up to Crosby on the game's final play, and the veteran kicker shook off a 51-yard miss in the third quarter as well as his career-worst day in this same stadium a year ago to earn the Packers a week off in January.

"It was very similar to the last time we played them," LaFleur said, as the Packers had beaten the Lions, coming from behind with a walk-off field goal back in October as well. "I'm happy we found a way to get it done.

"Although it wasn't pretty, now it's a zero-and-zero season and we're on to the playoffs."

Whether the Packers are taking any real momentum into the postseason after such an uneven, and at times frustrating, performance against a last-place squad is a fair question. Neither LaFleur nor Rodgers called the Packers a hot team at the moment despite five straight wins to end the regular season.

But once again a lot of the same phrases that have come to be heard after games this season – resilient, sticking together, battling to the end – were part of the postgame conversation.

"That's kind of the identity of this football team – when we have to make plays, we make plays," Rodgers said.

"We have an opportunity to host a second-round game at home, and I hope it's below 30. I think we'll be a tough team to deal with in the playoffs.

"I think the NFC is wide open."