The longest continuously-running rivalry in the NFL dates to when the Detroit Lions were known as the Portsmouth Spartans and the home city of the Green Bay Packers had a population of 37,407. Since then, the series has had its fair share of crazy games and streaks. Three weeks prior to their week 13 matchup the Green Bay Packers suffered their first loss to the Detroit Lions in the state of Wisconsin since 1991 and the Packers were eager to return the favor three weeks later during their run towards a seventh consecutive playoff appearance. With the Lions coming into the contest on a three-game winning streak (starting with the win in Green Bay), they also had a 4-7 record and were looking to play spoiler against the 7-4 Packers, who came into the game losers of four of their previous five games.
The setting a nationally televised Thursday Night Football contest in Detroit’s Ford Field in front a raucous crowd of 63,207. The Detroit faithful were especially loud with the start the home team provided them. After Packers’ running back James Starks started the game with three runs for a total of 15 yards, an incomplete pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Starks brought up a third down and six yards scenario. After a neutral zone infraction by the Lions, the Lions defense redeemed their mistake by stuffing Starks for a one-yard loss causing Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy to call on punter Tim Masthay to boot the ball over to the awaiting Lions. Lions running back Ameer Abdullah got right to work, ripping off a 12-yard run. Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford then completed a short pass to running back Theo Riddick before following up with a 20-yard completion to Calvin Johnson to move the chains into Green Bay territory. Running back Joique Bell ran for no gain and then picked up seven yards on a reception on the following play before a costly false start penalty against receiver Golden Tate essentially stalled the drive. After a pass from Stafford to Johnson fell incomplete, Lions’ head coach Jim Caldwell, a Beloit, Wisconsin native, called on kicker Matt Prater who promptly knocked through a 51-yard field goal to give the Lions a 3-0 lead.
On the Packers’ second series, left guard Josh Sitton made a costly 15-yard face mask penalty on first down which the offense couldn’t recover from, thus forcing a three play and out series, which then gave Detroit the ball back after a 48-yard punt by Masthay was fair caught by Tate at the Detroit 24-yard line. The Lions offense would then go right back to work. After consecutive receptions by Tate and a 12-yard run by Stafford brought the ball to near midfield, Abdullah rushed off the right side of the offensive line for a big 36-yard gain to bring the ball down to the Green Bay 11-yard line. Three plays later Stafford connected with tight end Eric Ebron for a short wide-open touchdown strike in the middle of the end zone to put the Lions up 10-0. A rare mistake by Rodgers gave the Lions the ball back on the second play of the Packers’ following possession. From his own 22-yard line Rodgers’ pass intended for receiver James Jones was overthrown and intercepted by pro-bowl safety Glover Quinn, and was returned 24-yards back to the Packers 17-yard line. Following the turnover, Stafford immediately hooked up with Johnson for a brilliant, sideline toe tapping 17-yard touchdown reception over cornerback Sam Shields to put Green Bay in a big hole, down 17, with a little over one-minute remaining in the first quarter.
While Rodgers was able to rally the Packers’ down to the Detroit 14-yard line, the offensive line which was without starting right guard TJ Lang and starting right tackle Brian Bulaga, sprung a leak and Rodgers was sacked for a big nine-yard loss by defensive end Devin Taylor to force a fourth down and a 41-yard field goal attempt by kicker Mason Crosby. Crosby’s kick hit the left upright and was no good, providing even more momentum to the Lions’ sidelines, and leaving the Packers’ on life support. The remainder of the second quarter was forgettable for both teams as they combined for seven punts (four by Detroit and three by Green Bay). When the first half clock ran out, Detroit found themselves up 17-0 and were set to receive the second half’s opening kickoff.
Upon receiving the second half kickoff, Stafford came out slinging the football looking to put a kill shot into the Packers, whom he had a 3-7 record against all time as the Lions’ starting quarterback. After starting from the Detroit 18-yard line, Stafford proceeded to go 5/7 on pass attempts for 61 yards and helped lead the Lions down inside the red zone before the drive fizzled and the Lions settled for a 34-yard field goal from Prater to give themselves a 20-0 advantage. On the Packers’ following drive, with their backs up against the wall, Rodgers connected with tight end Richard Rogers for a 26-yard completion on third down and 10 to move the chains and stay alive. After two carries for a combined 16 yards by running back John Crockett, Rodgers hit Starks on a middle screen out of the backfield, after a double play action fake, and Starks took the ball 25-yards down inside the Lions 10-yard line. On the next Starks took a carry but was tackled and stripped by safety Isa Abdul-Quddus at the six-yard line and the ball proceed to careen into the end zone where it was promptly jumped on by receiver Randall Cobb for a Packers’ touchdown. With the game at 20-7, the Packers’ defense made an impact immediately on the Lions’ next possession. On first down and ten from their own 20-yard line, Stafford dropped back on a play action pass while defensive end Julius Peppers torched left tackle Riley Reiff and was able to knock the ball from Stafford’s right hand before he was able to attempt a pass, and the ball was quickly landed on by linebacker Jake Ryan on the Detroit 12-yard line. Three plays later third down and six, Rodgers threaded a pass off his back foot which went over two Lions and landed in the hands of leaping receiver Davante Adams in the end zone for quick Packers’ score. After the Crosby extra point, the game quickly became a one possession deficit for the Packers at 20-14.
Trying to swing the momentum back to their side, where it had been all of the first half, the Lions’ drive stalled out when a third and one pass fell incomplete and the Lions’ Sam Martin punted the ball away from near midfield down to the Packers’ 18-yard line. The Packers’ looked to score a touchdown on their third straight possession but at the game moved into the fourth quarter Rodgers was sacked for a nine-yard loss on third down by the Lions’ pass rushing nemesis Ziggy Ansah, and Masthay punted the ball back over to Detroit territory. With 13:35 left on the game clock, the Lions went into game management mode up by six points. A six-minute, 12-play, 34-yard drive died at the Green Bay 24-yard line after two straight incompletions by Stafford and Prater knocked through his third field goal of the evening to push the score to a 23-14 lead for Detroit.
With seven minutes remaining, the Packers’ offense took the offense 86 yards away from the end zone. After a six-yard scramble run by Rodgers and a three-yard pickup by Starks, a third down pass fell incomplete and the Packers’ faced a fourth and one from their own 25-yard line. McCarthy called on the arm of his MVP quarterback to pick up the first down, and Rodgers answered, completing a pass to Cobb for 16 yards and a new set of downs. Two consecutive short completions followed, and after a false start penalty on right tackle Don Barclay, Rodgers connect with tight end Rodgers on back to back plays for a total of 37-yards to bring the ball inside the red zone. Three plays later, Rodgers made magic happen with his feet. On third down and ten, after dropping back to pass from the 17-yard line, Rodgers faced a heavy Lions’ pass rush which flushed him out to his left where he then saw an open field of green. Rodger sprinted out and pointed to his blockers down field to help him out and sprinted towards the goal line, before stretching the ball across the goal line and galloping in to make it a 23-21 game with a little over three minutes remaining.
After kicking the ball away for a touchback, the Packers’ defense faced a difficult challenge. With two timeouts remaining, they had to find any way possible to get the ball back into the hands of their quarterback with an adequate amount of time left on the game clock. After the Lions’ right tackle LaAdrian Widdle gifted the Packers’ with a five-yard false start penalty, Jake Ryan then stuffed Bell for a loss of one yard and after safety HaHa Clinton-Dix stopped Tate after a four yard pick up, the Packers’ called their final timeout and the Lions’ faced a third and 16. On the third and long, Stafford threw a laser across the middle just past the diving rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins and into the arms of little used receiver T.J. Jones for a 29-yard gain and a gut wrenching first down. The Packers’ defense was able to catch their breath and stuff Bell on three consecutive runs for a total of negative three yards which forced the Lions’ to punt it away with 29 seconds left in the contest.
Safety/punt returner Micah Hyde fair caught the 35-yard punt by Martin at the Green Bay 21-yard line which meant the Packers’ had 23 seconds, no timeouts and roughly 38-yards at minimum to set Crosby up for a potential game-winning field goal (58 yards was the longest made field goal by Crosby). Following two incompletions, including one which appeared that the Lions got away with pass interference, Rodgers threw a 19-yard pass to Jones, who lateraled it to Richard Rodgers who then lateraled it back to Rodgers who had no one behind him to lateral it to, and was spun down by Devin Taylor on a tackle which appeared to end the game. However, penalty flags quickly littered the field and replay confirmed that Taylor grabbed Rodgers by the facemask on his tackle and the Packers’ were given 15-yards and were provided one last play with no time left on the clock. On the pursing play, Rodgers, facing only a three man pass rush, was able to scramble long enough to give his receivers enough time to get into the end zone, 61 yards away. Rodgers rolled out to his right and had time to wind up and uncork a throw perhaps as high and far as he could from his own 36-yard line. As the football hung up in the air, for what seemed like forever, a contingent of six Lions and five Packers gathered in the end zone awaiting it to fall to them. Richard Rodgers was in front of the gathering and was able to leap up and haul in the football in front of the swarm of Lions’ defenders, as he fell to the turf, the back-judge referee ran up to the scene and confirmed the catch, gave the touchdown signal and pandemonium ensued. The Packers’ entire team and staff rushed to celebrate with each other in the end zone, as a deflated Lions’ team and fan base watched as the final score on the Ford Field scoreboard read Green Bay 27, Detroit 21.
The Packers’ 20-point comeback win was the largest deficit overcome to win a game in the series’ 85-year history. The franchise record for largest comeback stood at 23 points, in a victory against the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 The 61-yard game winning touchdown became the longest game-winning Hail Mary play in NFL history. Aaron Rodgers finished 24/36 for 273 yards, two touchdowns and one interception while Stafford went 23/35 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions possessed the ball for seven more minutes, but also accumulated nine penalties adding up to 108 yards. The Lions’ finished the season with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs while the Packers’ finished 10-6 to earn a wildcard spot in the playoffs where they defeated the Washington Redskins 35-18, before suffering an overtime defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals.