EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—The big drive and the big touchdown happened before kickoff, in Pittsburgh, where the Lions were threatening to put daylight between themselves and the Packers, the team that has owned the NFC North for longer than the competition wants to remember.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were at their 3-yard line, trailing the Lions by four points. The Steelers didn't have any "skin" in the game; they were playing for the Packers. Oh, how they were playing for the Packers.
Ninety-seven yards later, "Big Ben" threw one of the biggest touchdown passes of the season for the Packers, as the Steelers beat the Lions and kept the Packers within a game of the NFC North lead.
Three hours later, following a 27-13 loss to the Giants, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy stood in front of reporters and said: "We've lost three in a row but I believe better days are ahead."
Could McCarthy have made that statement had the Lions won in Pittsburgh? Would you have believed it had he said it?
The Packers lost another football game on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Losing has become a painful habit for this team, but the reality of the situation is the Packers moved one week closer to the day when Aaron Rodgers returns to action, and they did so without losing any ground in the NFC North title race.
It's a simple formula: Win their three remaining division games and finish in no worse than a tie with the Lions and/or Bears, and the NFC North will, again, belong to the Packers. Nothing in the Packers' pursuit of the division crown changed with the loss to the Giants. Nothing about McCarthy's words ring hollow.
In Green Bay this week, the Packers will prepare for a critical NFC North home game against the Vikings. Critical? No, it's more than that. It's a must-win game. Remember the formula. It begins with win the remaining three division games. This is the first of those three.
Wild card? Forget about it. That's becoming a longshot, but the NFC North title is still well within the Packers' grasp, thanks to "Big Ben" and the prettiest-looking 97-yard crunch-time drive the "Packers" have executed this season.
How big is that drive? Remember that DeSean Jackson punt return for a touchdown in 2010? Yeah, it can be that big, if the Packers change their ways and start winning games immediately. The next two weeks are must-win games. It's that simple. We're going to start finding out what the Packers' fate is this season real quick now.
In Detroit this week, the Lions will be dealing with more than just defeat. Jim Schwartz will be under fire for attempting that fake field goal play that failed and handed "Big Ben" the ball at his 3-yard line.
There will be noise in the system, so to speak. Schwartz will be the subject of much of that noise, and so will his quarterback, Matt Stafford, who melted at crunch time.
McCarthy doesn't like drama, but like it or not the most intense drama of the season begins now. This is it. This is crunch time.
"We did not play well enough as a football team to win. This team has a lot of character. Times like these are when you see it. I fully believe it's only going to make us stronger," McCarthy said.
"Winning! It's about winning. We need to win games. We need to score more points and we need to keep them out of the end zone more. We need big-play production. That's how you win in this league," he added.
The Packers have used up their margin of error. The Lions' loss in Pittsburgh bought the Packers a little more time, but now time has run out. The Packers must win the next two games. It's that's simple.
Additional CoverageInstant Replay: Giants 27, Packers 13