When Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone in Week 6, the NFC North suddenly became wide open for the taking. The Green Bay Packers were 4-1 at the time of his injury, and they’ve since dropped every game without Rodgers under center.
For a while, the Detroit Lions failed to take advantage of Rodgers’ absence, going on a three-game losing streak that squandered their 3-1 start. They were facing a real do-or-die scenario heading into Lambeau Field on Monday night, with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance.
Thankfully for Jim Caldwell and his team, Detroit took care of business in a breezy 30-17 win. Matthew Stafford threw for 361 yards and two touchdowns while the defense properly dominated a hapless Brett Hundley. The Lions took a 14-3 lead into halftime and just kept pouring it on, putting away any real doubt well before the fourth quarter.
This was a much-needed boost for the Lions — not just for the win, but for how they handled a clearly inferior team. The Packers are lost at sea without Rodgers and won’t be favorites any time soon. The Lions put their foot on the Packers’ throat and held it there all night, never giving Hundley a chance to get back in the game.
Golden Tate and Marvin Jones ran circles around the Packers defense, combining for 14 catches and 220 yards. Ameer Abdullah mostly struggled again (21 carries, 48 yards), but his 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter effectively put the game on ice early. Tahir Whitehead and Glover Quin were all over the field on defense, making life miserable for Hundley and the Packers offense.
Now, the Lions aren’t in the clear yet. They’re still paying for that three-game skid, sitting at 4-4 while the Minnesota Vikings are running away with first place at 6-2. If the season ended today, they would be well behind the Carolina Panthers (6-3), Dallas Cowboys (5-3), and Seattle Seahawks (5-3) in the wild card pecking order.
At the moment, they’re tied with the Atlanta Falcons (who beat them to hold a head-to-head tiebreaker), Washington, and the Packers. There is still a lot of ground to be made up over the next month, and the Lions don’t have any margin for error left. Nearly every game will be a must-win from here on out.
The good news is that they beat the Vikings in Week 4 and have a friendly two-game stretch (vs. Cleveland Browns, at Chicago Bears) before a crucial Week 12 rematch with Minnesota. There is no reason why this team shouldn’t be playing meaningful football in December, and possibly beyond.
The season is far from over, and the Lions still have flaws to work out. They’re not a perfect team by any means. But in the NFL playoff race, it’s all about doing the little things right, and taking care of a Packers team missing its franchise quarterback definitely matters. Now that they’re off the losing streak and playing good football again, it’ll be fascinating to see where the Lions go from here.