With all the talk about the Detroit Lions over the past 24 hours, virtually none of it was about their matchup with division rival Green Bay. The playoffs were out of reach, and everybody is now fixated on the future of this franchise, and whether or not the 2018 season will be another with current head coach Jim Caldwell at the helm.
Nonetheless, there was still a game to be played, and after the Packers won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, they started the game with a bit of trickery:
Onside kick to start the game?— NFL (@NFL) December 31, 2017
And a RECOVERY?
YEP. #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/yqaO8tNSYk
The Packers offense, led by Brett Hundley, would move Green Bay into scoring range after converting two third-and-1 plays on their opening drive. Green Bay would be faced with another third down, and Hundley had an open receiver after Jamaal Williams split out wide and ran a slant against Detroit’s Jarrad Davis in coverage. The separation was there, the throw was on target, but Williams bobbled the pass into the waiting arms of Davis—his first turnover forced since Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals.
The slow starts continued for the Lions offense on Sunday, a prevalent theme this season for a Detroit team that would routinely find itself trailing early on in games. After going three-and-out, the Packers would hold up their end of reinforcing that narrative, with Mason Crosby kicking through a 41-yard field goal to give Green Bay an early three-point lead.
Detroit’s offense would make better on their next series on offense with Matthew Stafford hooking up for a big pass and catch of 56 yards to Marvin Jones Jr.—it was the 11th straight game for Jones catching a pass of 20+ yards this season. The drive would stall out after a couple of pass attempts to Eric Ebron, one of which looked like pass interference on an under-thrown ball by Stafford in the back corner of the end zone, and Matt Prater would knock through a 28-yard field goal to knot the game at three apiece.
Green Bay would once again be the cause of their own undoing with Hundley fumbling the ball on a designed quarterback keeper. Glover Quin, one of the brightest spots of this Lions secondary, forced the fumble and Tahir Whitehead would scoop it up and prevent the Packers from capitalizing on a drive deep into Lions territory.
The two teams would exchange punts in a game of “who wants to actually win this game?” and then it was time for some sax:
KENNY GOLLADAY! #OnePride pic.twitter.com/44PszodD1b— NFL (@NFL) December 31, 2017
A 54-yard pitch and catch from Stafford to Kenny Golladay on third-and-10 for a touchdown gave the Lions a 10-3 lead after a Prater extra point. After Michael Roberts was deemed inactive for missing a team meeting on Saturday and Teez Tabor left the game with an injury, it was promising to see another rookie like Golladay provide a big play and some excitement in an otherwise ho-hum game.
Green Bay’s next drive would start deep in their own territory, and Ezekiel Ansah would get to Hundley on third-and-8 for his tenth sack of the season, forcing another Packers punt.
Give him sacks for the year! @Ziggy_Ansah #GBvsDET #OnePride pic.twitter.com/ny67VO8HI9— Detroit Lions (@Lions) December 31, 2017
Detroit’s next drive wouldn’t go anywhere, but the Lions special teams would make yet another critical play when Packers defensive back Donatello Brown muffed the punt deep in Green Bay territory. Paul Worrilow jumped on it, and Stafford would find Marvin Jones Jr., who made a nice snag he controlled to the ground in the end zone for another Lions touchdown.
The Lions kept the pressure on Hundley and the Packers as Detroit’s pass rush, led by Ansah, pinned the Packers near their own goal line, leading to a three-play, -13 yard drive. Detroit would add another field goal to extend their lead to 20-3 at the half.
Football happened, or at least a bunch of punting happened as the Packers and Lions combined to punt the ball five times to start the second half. Then, after Green Bay’s third punt of the third quarter, Golden Tate happened.
You will NOT stop @ShowtimeTate! #OnePride pic.twitter.com/hNTZPNrMlj— NFL (@NFL) December 31, 2017
Stafford found a soft spot in the Packers zone coverage and dropped in a pass to Tate, and the King of YAC ran it the rest of the way—from nearly 45 yards out—for a 71-yard touchdown that ballooned Detroit’s lead to 24.
Their hope’s on life support, Hundley connected with Randall Cobb on fourth down for Green Bay’s first touchdown of the game, and a two-point conversion cut into the Lions’ lead and make it a two-score game.
But the Lions wouldn’t loosen their grip on this one. Ameer Abdullah would put what many thought would be the declarative period on a victory for the Lions, running in his fourth rushing touchdown of the season.
.@Ameerguapo gets to the pylon...— NFL (@NFL) December 31, 2017
TOUCHDOWN, @Lions! #OnePride pic.twitter.com/jhFcQGJ44S
Then, the exclamation point:
TRICKERY!@ShowtimeTate to Matthew Stafford for the 2-point conversion! #OnePride pic.twitter.com/8EsIX4r92O— NFL (@NFL) December 31, 2017
Detroit’s victory over the Packers on Sunday was the first time in over two decades that the Lions swept the season series against Green Bay, and it pushed Detroit’s divisional record to an impressive 5-1 on the season.
The question of Jim Caldwell’s job security will certainly be the topic that dominates discussion over the next 24 hours, but for now, the Lions finish with another season with a winning record, their second consecutive such season and the first time since the ‘94-’95 campaigns.