The Detroit Lions capped their wild season with a memorable win over the Green Bay Packers. Even though the Lions were eliminated from the playoffs less than an hour before kickoff and the Packers were fighting for their playoff lives, Detroit looked like the hungrier, smarter, and better team on Sunday night.
Of course a ton of credit goes to the players, but this was also a game in which the coaching staff shined not only for some on-field decisions, but the two years they’ve spent building a culture and an identity showed up in a big way on Sunday night.
Here are my grades for the Lions’ 20-16 win over the Packers.
In the first half, Jared Goff looked like all of the people who pushed the “cold weather” narrative were right. He looked uncomfortable, inaccurate, and almost shell-shocked.
But he more than made up for it in the second half. Goff completed 10-of-13 of his second-half passes for 109 yards and a 101.1 passer rating. That includes the absolute best throw I’ve ever seen Goff make in a Detroit Lions uniform.
From outside the left hashmark, Goff dropped an absolute dime across his body and 50 yards downfield. One of the biggest plays of the night, and Goff deserves a ton of credit for it.
Running backs: A
This was the quintessential Jamaal Williams game. He slowly wore the Packers down in the second half, and was a huge reason the Lions were able to put this game away. I am the biggest Barry Sanders fan in the world, but if there was someone I would be totally fine with breaking Sanders’ single-season touchdown, it’s Jamaal Williams.
Again, D’Andre Swift turned out to be significantly important in this game, too. While he finished with just six rushes and 25 yards, his 61 receiving yards turned out to be extremely huge. Healthy Swift is fun.
Tight ends: B
Lions tight ends caught just one pass for 7 yards, but they continue to look better and better as blockers, specifically in the run game. Although, that holding on James Mitchell could have proven to be costly to a lesser team.
Wide receivers: B
Jameson Williams had a tough drop, and Amon-Ra St. Brown just barely missed catching a diving pass that would’ve kept a drive alive. However, we need to talk about Kalif Raymond. He’s quietly been the most improved receiver in the group. In the past four games alone, Raymond has 13 catches for 215 yards... as the team’s No. 4 wide receiver. He’s slowly emerged as Detroit’s best deep threat, which is crazy for a 5-foot-8 receiver.
Also, St. Brown can catch with his butt.
Offensive line: B-
Early in the game, the Packers defensive linemen were giving the Lions a ton of trouble. Especially when it came to the interior offensive line, the Lions couldn’t run block or pass block worth a damn. A holding penalty took a flea-flicker touchdown off the board, too.
But in the second half, the offensive line was outstanding. They wore down this Packers team to the tune of 79 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, 4.6 yards per carry, zero sacks and just a single quarterback hit in the second half alone.
It’s probably not a complete coincidence that as the offensive line improved, so did Jared Goff.
Defensive line: A-
Aidan Hutchinson was outstanding again, as the Lions tallied two sacks and seven quarterback hits on the day. They completely corralled Rodgers in the pocket as the Packers quarterback managed just 10 rushing yards on three carries.
In fact, the Lions run defense overall was phenomenal. Green Bay had one of the best, most efficient rushing attacks in the league, and the Lions held them to just 103 yards and 3.7 yards per carry. The interior defensive line was doing work all game. All you need to know is that Isaiah Buggs finished with a career-high seven tackles. That tells a story on its own.
Early on, the linebacking corps was missing tackles and got exposed in the passing game. However, the linebacking corps was a big reason Detroit was so stout in the red zone, forcing field goals early instead of allowing touchdowns. Alex Anzalone also completely sniffed out the Packers’ early fourth-down attempt, giving the ball back to Detroit with phenomenal field position.
It wasn’t the greatest day for the Lions’ outside cornerbacks. With Jeff Okudah out and Mike Hughes leaving the game early with an injury, Jerry Jacobs and Amani Oruwariye both gave up big plays in the passing game.
However, Lions rookie safety Kerby Joseph flashed his athleticism all over the place, making Rodgers pay every single time he tried to test his range deep. Joseph picked off Rodgers twice (only one counted) and had another pass breakup on top of that. The return of DeShon Elliott also helped in the run game, as the physical safety tallied five tackles on the day.
Special teams: C
It was not a great day for Detroit’s return team or Michael Badgely, who missed an early 46-yarder.
However, it’s worth noting that the Lions’ coverage units were great again and against one of the hottest kick returners in the league. Keisean Nixon has been a weapon for the Packers, but the Lions weren’t scared of him. They kicked to him every single time, and held him to just 19.8 yards per kick return.
What a masterful performance from the Lions coaching staff. Not only was this an absolute clinic on how to keep your team motivated despite getting kicked out of the playoffs, but several coaching decisions in the game helped the Lions clinch this football game.
Twice this team went for it on fourth down when others probably wouldn’t. The first, the Lions were down 16-13 facing a fourth-and-2 at the Packers’ 25-yard line. How many NFL coaches opt for the 42-yard field goal to tie the game? Not Dan Campbell. The Lions went for it, and ended up scoring what would be the game-winning touchdown.
Then, the Lions could have kicked a field goal to go up 23-16 with 1:10 left. That’s a pretty good situation to be in, and it would have been the safe call. But Dan Campbell didn’t want to put the ball in Aaron Rodgers’ hands, and he trusted his own quarterback to put the game away. Goff did, and now Rodgers’ last career pass may be his third interception thrown to Kerby Joseph in his rookie season.
On top of all that, Ben Johnson’s hook-and-lateral play was absolutely essential in getting the Lions out of a pickle, and Campbell’s decision to decline the Packers’ offsides were more examples of the Lions just outcoaching the Packers on every level.