GREEN BAY, Wis. — This Green Bay win was big enough to be felt all the way to Chicago.
Mike Daniels returned a fumble 43 yards, and DaJuan Harris and Aaron Rodgers ran for touchdowns in the second half as the Packers moved within one win of the NFC North title with their 27-20 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night.
Beat the Bears next weekend at Soldier Field, and Green Bay wins the division.
“We’re first in the division by a game and we put ourselves in good position, not only for the division but potentially for a first-round bye. The division is our first goal,” Rodgers said. “We can wrap things up next week. It’s a tough opponent, a tough place to play. There’s a lot on the line.”
Rodgers‘ 27-yard scoring run was the longest of his career and Green Bay’s longest of the season. He was 14 of 24 for 173 yards, though he failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 36 games at Lambeau Field.
Calvin Johnson had 118 yards receiving to put him over 1,500 for the year, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Lions (4-9) from dropping their fifth straight. After touchdowns on their first two drives gave them a 14-0 lead, the Lions could only manage a pair of field goals by Jason Hanson.
This was the third straight game they’ve blown a lead of 10-plus points, tying an NFL record shared by six other teams.
“We’ve been in every single game this year. But being in games doesn’t mean (anything) in this league,” said Matthew Stafford, whose fumble in the second-quarter helped spark Green Bay’s comeback. “It’s about getting wins and we understand that as a locker room and as a team.
“It’s tough when the ball isn’t going your way,” he added. But we’re not helping it go our way. We’re doing it to ourselves as well.”
The Packers have won 22 straight at home against the Lions, the longest streak in the NFL. The streak, which includes a playoff game, dates all the way back to 1992 — when Green Bay was still playing some of its home games in Milwaukee.
Packers-Bears is perhaps the NFL’s greatest rivalry, with fans and players alike taking it personal. (Curly Lambeau and George Halas refused to even shake hands after their games.) The games are heated when they’re played in September, and a December matchup with the division title on the line only elevates the drama.
“I’m focused on going to Chicago and winning the division,” McCarthy said. “We put ourselves in position to get to 10 wins. We really don’t look around until we get to 10 wins because double-digit wins is when things really start to fall in place for your football team. Ten wins will give us the division championship and that’s what we’re focused on.”
While beating the Lions may have seemed like the easy leg in Green Bay’s road to the division crown, the Packers came out sluggish and quickly found themselves trailing 14-0. But they were re-energized by Daniels‘ fumble recovery.
The season’s first significant storm dumped almost 3.5 inches of snow on Green Bay, making Lambeau Field look like a snow globe for most of the night. As Stafford drew his arm back to throw midway through the second quarter, the ball slipped out of his hands.
“That was a big play. We had all the momentum,” Stafford said. “I don’t really have much of an explanation for it. I wish I could have gotten on top of it. It squirted away from me again.”
And Daniels was right there to scoop it up, rumbling nearly half the length of the field for the score that pulled Green Bay within 14-10. Daniels is Green Bay’s first rookie defensive lineman to return a fumble for a TD since 1941.
He needs some work on his Lambeau Leap, however, getting only about halfway up the wall.
“I was too tired,” Daniels said.
Hey, Rodgers wasn’t much better.
Still trailing in the third, Rodgers was trying to find someone — anyone — to throw to on third-and-4. With Lions defensive end Willie Young closing in, Rodgers scrambled away and found a hole on the right side. He ran untouched down the sideline, holding the ball out as he crossed the goal line.
The 27-yard touchdown was the longest scoring run of his career, and the Packers’ longest this season.
“For him to score from that distance speaks volumes about his athletic ability,” McCarthy said. “He’s our guy, he’s our ace, it’s built around him and he played well again tonight.”
So did Green Bay’s running backs. Inconsistency and injuries have kept the Packers from finding a groove on the ground this season, and they had to bring back veteran Ryan Grant earlier this week just to give them some depth.
But they might have found a formula that worked. They rushed for 140 yards, 98 of it coming in the second half, and their entire go-ahead drive was on the ground.
Alex Green rushed for 29 yards on the first four plays, then Grant broke off a 13-yard gain.
Then it was Harris‘ turn. Elevated from the practice squad just eight days ago, his 5-yard gain put the Packers at the Detroit 14. He strolled in untouched on the next play, giving the Packers a 24-17 lead.
“It was poor defense,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We had a chance to go out and get a stop, and they just ran the ball down our throats.”
“That’s something we look forward to,” receiver Randall Cobb said. “Just to know that we’re on the brink of accomplishing it is big, and we’re just trying to find a way to make sure we accomplish it next week.”
NOTES: The Packers scored twice on the ground for the first time since Dec. 11, 2011. The two TDs almost doubled their total for the season, giving them five touchdowns on the ground. … Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew did not return for the second half after injuring his ankle. … Green Bay is 13-1 against Detroit under McCarthy.