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Plenty on the line for both Packers & Lions on Thanksgiving

Jordan Love, Matt LaFleur to make debuts in this holiday rivalry

Head Coach Matt LaFeur; QB Jordan Love
Head Coach Matt LaFeur; QB Jordan Love

GREEN BAY – Jordan Love's Thanksgiving memories mostly consist of family gatherings at his home in Bakersfield, Calif.

Everyone would bring dishes to contribute to the big meal, and then all would settle in to watch the Cowboys game.

Well, the family will be flipping the TV on a little sooner this year.

Out on the West Coast, the Packers-Lions kickoff in Detroit on Thursday will be at 9:30 a.m., and all those folks who used to gather in Bakersfield will be tuning in to watch Love quarterback his first Thanksgiving game. All except Love's mom, who will be in attendance at Ford Field.

"It's cool," Love said, thinking about everyone back home watching him play. "It's awesome."

Packers-Lions is almost a holiday tradition all its own, though it's been a full decade now since the two teams squared off on Thanksgiving in Detroit.

The first Thanksgiving matchup was back in 1951, beginning a stretch of 13 straight years the two teams met in Detroit on the holiday. Since that streak ended in 1963, there have been eight additional Thanksgiving matchups, with the Packers posting an 8-12-1 mark.

Love will become the ninth different Packers quarterback to start a game in Detroit on Thanksgiving. His Hall of Fame predecessors Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers started a total of five games against the Lions on Thanksgiving, with Matt Flynn getting one as an injury substitution for Rodgers in the most recent meeting, back in 2013.

With Jared Goff now under center for Detroit, this will mark the first Packers-Lions game on Thanksgiving without Favre, Rodgers or Matthew Stafford playing quarterback since 1986, when the matchup pitted Green Bay's Randy Wright vs. Detroit's Joe Ferguson in a wild 44-40 come-from-behind victory for the Packers, highlighted by Walter Stanley's 83-yard punt return for a TD in the game's final minute.

Here's the full list of Packers starting QBs for Thanksgiving games in Detroit, with their number of games and win-loss record: Bart Starr 7 (2-4-1), Tobin Rote 4 (1-3), Favre 3 (2-1), Babe Parilli 2 (0-2), Rodgers 2 (2-0), Lynn Dickey 1 (0-1), Wright 1 (1-0) and Flynn 1 (0-1).

On the coaching side of things, Matt LaFleur will be the eighth Packers head coach to take on the Lions in Detroit. Vince Lombardi coached in this Thanksgiving rivalry the most (five times), followed by Lisle Blackbourn and Mike McCarthy (four each).

In LaFleur's NFL coaching career, it's his second Thanksgiving game overall, having worked as Washington's QB coach in 2012 for a matchup in Dallas. LaFleur's star pupil, rookie Robert Griffin III, threw for 304 yards and four TDs in that game as Washington knocked off the Cowboys, 38-31.

"It's a great honor," LaFleur said of coaching on Thanksgiving. "You're the only game on in that slot."

In his younger days, as a native of Mount Pleasant, Mich., the Lions game was the star attraction of the day. Now LaFleur will be on the opposing sideline.

"I just remember growing up, especially in Michigan, watching every one of those Thanksgiving Day games at my grandmother's house," he said. "Everybody's glued to the TV set.

"It's great to be going back to the state I'm from and hopefully we can spoil their Thanksgiving Day."

Bigger picture, the Packers will be trying to break their current four-game losing streak against the Lions, which dates back to the 2021 regular-season finale.

The last time the Lions won five games in a row in this divisional rivalry was way back in the early '50s, which coincides with when the Thanksgiving matchups between these teams began. Detroit won 11 straight over Green Bay from 1949-54, with four of the 11 wins in the streak coming on Thanksgiving.

The Packers are badly banged up, but coming around in 2023 at 4-6. They've won two of their last three and were potentially one play in Pittsburgh from a three-game winning streak.

The Lions are 8-2 for the first time since 1962, the year they spoiled the Packers' undefeated season on Thanksgiving with a sack barrage of Starr. Detroit has won its last two games at the wire and is seeking its first division title in 30 years, which was also the last time the Lions sat alone in first place in the division heading into their Thanksgiving game.

"Their play style, it just jumps off the tape," LaFleur said. "They play extremely physical. They play extremely fast. So it's not just one guy. It's all 11. They fly around, and you've got to match that."

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