Lions finish with winning record after huge win over Packers at Lambeau

It was not at all surprising that the Lions played the Green Bay Packers like everything depended on a win. Detroit knew when it took the field there was no chance they could earn a playoff berth after the Seahawks beat the Rams in overtime, but they played like it was their Super Bowl.

The Lions ended up with a 20-16 win at Green Bay on Sunday night to knock the Packers out of the postseason. 

“It was a great win, I was proud of our guys, they played their ass off, they were ready for this game,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “They wanted to prove something and they did that. This team has hung in there all year long, it’s a special group. The hard part of this is it’s over for this season because it is a special group. If you’ve got to go down, and it’s the last one for the season, what a better way to go than that for 2022.’’

The final play perfectly captured their season. It was a fourth-and-1 at the Packers’ 15-yard line with 1:15 on the clock. A field goal would have given the Packers too much time to go down the field and possibly win.

Like he’s done all season, Campbell trusted his offense and went for the win on fourth down. 

Boom – Jared Goff to D.J. Chark for 4 yards, the first down and the win. Detroit was 2-for-2 on fourth-down plays in the win.

Campbell said he wanted to put the game in Goff’s hands. “Let’s let Goff finish this out for us … We believe in Goff,’’ Campbell said.

The Lions finished the season 9-8, their first winning season since 2017. They also finished 5-1 in NFC North games while the Packers were 3-3 in division games.

It wasn’t a miracle, it was hard work and it paid off.

Five of the many reasons the Lions won:

1. Safety Kerby Joseph intercepted Aaron Rodgers on third-and-10 with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter. Goff and the Lions took over and made enough plays to keep the ball out of Rodgers’ hands for the rest of the game. Joseph also had an interception earlier in the game, but it was negated by a holding call. 

2. Jared Goff had better numbers in games this season, but certainly he came through when he needed to on Sunday night. He finished the season with nine straight games without an interception or what he called a “great little streak.” Against the Packers he was 23 of 34 for 224 yards with no interceptions. “(This team has) a lot of toughness, this team is built to handle adversity and we showed it tonight .This team would never win in these conditions on the road at Lambeau and we came in and did it,’’ Goff said. 

3. Aaron Rodgers had trouble with the Lions defense in Detroit on Nov. 6 when the Lions prevailed 15-9. That day he was intercepted three times.  Sunday he made a few big plays but not quite enough. He was sacked twice by Aidan Hutchinson and pressured start to finish by the young defensive group. “It verified what I thought. It wasn’t too big for them,’’ Campbell said. “They went out and played ball. Certainly at an NFL level, but they looked like kids again.’’

4. Running back Jamaal Williams scored a pair of rushing touchdowns to surpass Barry Sanders for the franchise single season mark. Sanders finished with 16 in 1991. Williams has 17 this season. Plus he hit the 1,000-yard mark in the win. “Everybody is happy for Jamaal. He’s the ultimate team guy,’’ Campbell said. The coach has repeatedly talked about Williams’ consistency throughout the season. 

5. Dan Campbell and his coordinators (Ben Johnson, Aaron Glenn and Dave Fipp) had the guys prepared physically and mentally. They knew they couldn’t get into the playoffs during pre-game warmups, but it didn’t matter. Campbell said they were unfazed. They played physical football just like they do in every game, in every circumstance. Campbell never, ever gave up on these guys even when they were 1-6. At that point he was continually asked why he saw improvement in his team when they weren’t winning and he continually said he saw it coming. Now we know those were not empty words. 

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)


Five things to watch as Lions look to bounce back against Bears; plus prediction

While the Chicago Bears have lost eight straight, they aren’t a team that can be overlooked. That’s the word that coach Dan Campbell preached this week.

The Lions (7-8) are still clinging to a playoff dream and need a win against the Bears (3-12) on Sunday at Ford Field to keep that dream alive.The Bears were torched by the Bills, 35-13, on Christmas eve and have lost 11 of their last 12.

“This is the Buffalo Bills as far as we’re concerned,’’ Campbell said.

In their first matchup, Detroit eked out a 31-30 win over the Bears at Chicago on Nov. 13. The Lions are coming off a brutal 37-23 loss at Carolina. 

“I know these coaches, and I know these players and I know what they’re made of, and I just go back to the fact that this team is assembled for a reason. So, there is nothing that would tell me that these guys won’t bounce back,’’ Campbell said. 

Five things to watch:

1. Find a way to stop quarterback Justin Fields. In their first meeting, Fields had 13 carries for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 67-yard scamper late in the game. He also passed for 167 yards, two touchdowns and one interceptions. “He is the X-factor for that team, and it shows all over the tape,’’ LIons defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “The No. 1 thing that we’ve learned (from the first matchup) is how strong this player is, and we had him wrapped up a couple times in that game. We missed a tackle on him, and listen, he’s an athletic player. He’s going to make some plays. I mean, that’s just the crux. He’s going to do that. The things that we have to do is be able to eliminate the big plays that he’s able to make, and he made a couple of plays against us. So, we have to do everything in our power to be able to stop those plays, and I’m not just talking about him running. I’m talking about him passing the ball also.”

2. Along with stopping Fields, overall the defense has to stop the run. They were pathetic against the Panthers, allowing 320 rushing yards (240 in the first half). They knew Carolina was going to run and yet they looked unprepared. And even after the Panthers got off to a fast start with their ground game, the defense didn’t appear to have any answers. They have to prove they are better than how they played that game. 

3. Lions have to find the same run game they had going early in the season. It’s been a struggle of late. In the loss at Carolina they managed just 45 rushing yards averaging 2.6 yards per carry. That won’t cut it. “So, we’re not even getting our guys back to the line scrimmage and allowing our backs to potentially break tackles or get on the post safety and that’s where early in the year those guys were so dangerous because they were making guys miss at the second and third levels and getting these 50-yard runs,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “And it takes everybody, it’s not just the O-line, tight ends play a big role in it, our receivers got to continue to do some dirty work and us as coaches we’ve got to look in the mirror as well and making sure we’re putting our guys in the right positions because I can tell you right now there’s a few times over the last couple of weeks we’re not putting our guys in good spots. So, we’re addressing that and we’ll make sure that we are sound and giving them a chance.”

4. Jared Goff has gone seven straight games (5-2) without throwing an interception and it’s not because he’s playing it safe. He’s found success with the deep ball. ​​”I felt like he’s been capable of making any throw, second level or deep, and like I said, it really comes down to us getting past the guys. Do we like the matchup on the outside or we feel confident we’re going to get over the top of safeties? And then, like I said, the more reps we get with these wideouts, and see them come down and make a contested catch, the more trust he has to go ahead and pull that trigger,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “I would say he probably could have done it a little bit more last game too. There were a couple other opportunities, so we’re continuing to encourage him to do that, and really start some practice for us where we’re getting in that groove.”

5. No one can say if rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams will have a bigger role against the Bears. In his three games Williams has had just one catch. He was on the field for 11 offensive snaps against the Panthers. He’s building trust with Goff but there’s a ton of competition for the ball. “We try to work in all of our playmakers. He’s certainly in that group, but I think D.J. (Chark)’s shown that he’s going to make big plays for us. (Amon-Ra) St. Brown has been our most consistent player over the course of the season. We’d be getting a lot of criticism if we’re not giving him the touches,’’ Johnson said. “Our backs are really good players when the ball’s in their hands, so I mean we have a lot of talent spread out. Each week, guys have plays in the gameplan, and it’s a matter of whether the situation, the defense allows us to get it to our primary receiver or not. So, no, I don’t think we’re pressing to force the ball to anybody. We’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, and if that means he gets a 100-yard game this week, then great, but I’d like all of our skill players to have that because really, honestly, they’re dangerous like that. All of them are.’’

(Prediction: Lions 35, Bears 21)

Five things to watch as the Lions face the Panthers; plus prediction

When the stakes go higher for the Lions — like they will against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday — the team’s temperature must go down. That’s the way coach Dan Campbell sees it and he’s guided this team to six wins in the last seven games to make a playoff berth a possibility.

The Panthers (5-9) still have a shot at the playoffs so the Lions (7-7) can’t take them lightly. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Give Campbell credit for keeping the focus on each day and each game instead of the big overall playoff picture. So far they have kept marching forward, keeping the outside noise on the outside.

“I kind of feel like – if it was going to happen, it would’ve happened last week because I felt like all of sudden there was this big – all this attention and everybody wants a piece of the players and coaches,’’ Campbell said. “And so, if it was going to happen, it was then. I think because that was a big swing, we were in the sewer before that and then all of a sudden, we’re – life’s great. So, I feel like, alright, we’re through it. 

“Now, to me it’s – man, the emphasis is on – there again, you can never lose sight. You’ve got to respect the opponent and what they’re capable of. They’ve got a chance to win this division, they’re very much in the hunt. So, we understand that. We identify that. We know it’s a physical unit, but the other thing is, man, you don’t know. This is a – we’ve got an opportunity and you just don’t know when these opportunities are always going to be there, and so we can’t let this slip through our fingers,’’ the coach added.

Five things to watch:

1. The defensive game plan will be similar to last week which resulted in a win over the Jets. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said first- and second- down efficiency will be key. “That has got to be on point because what you don’t want with this team, you don’t want to get them in a third-and-short because when they get into a third-and-short, I guess third-and-5 or less, man, it’s really first and second down for them because they will still run the ball in those situations,’’ Glenn said. “So, now you can’t really anticipate what they’re going to do. So, as far as framing this game, we have to do everything we can to be really, really stout.”

2. The offensive line probably doesn’t get enough credit for keeping Jared Goff safe. All they have to do is keep it up. Goff hasn’t thrown an interception in six straight games and hasn’t been sacked in the last two games. In the last seven games since the 6 of 7 win streak started he’s been sacked 6 times. In the previous 7 games when the Lions started 1-6 he was sacked 13 times. Carolina’s Brian Burns has 10.5 sacks so far this season. “It’s a catch 22 for me as I’m calling it because I mean, they come to the sideline and they ask for more runs. But yet, when they’re protecting that well, let’s throw it a little bit more, good things are happening. But no I joke around with them about that, but no they’ve done a great job,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “It’s them doing a phenomenal job with their technique and fundamentals in pass protection, but it’s also a testament to our route runners being disciplined, playing fast, being at the right depth and our quarterback’s playing with timing and anticipation.’’

3. Emphasis has been to improve the run game in recent weeks. They’ve had 100 yards rushing or more in the last three games – all wins. Johnson said he’d love to run the ball more but the negative runs really hurt. “We need to be efficient, and we need to get going, stay on schedule and ahead of the sticks. We were in too many second-and-longs last week, and it made our lives difficult, so yeah no, I think they certainly recognize it’s something that we’ll continue to address as the week goes on too,’’ Johnson said. ” And that’s kind of been the story of our season: fires pop up. We’re just in a race to try to put them away, and sure enough, another week comes by, and other fires pop up, so it’s our cycle right now.”

4. It’s been a slow roll-out for rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams. In his first three games he has one catch – a 41-yarder for a touchdown.The Panthers’ defense will have to keep an eye on him when he’s on the field. He and Jared Goff are building chemistry during practice. “It’s a weekly process, and I think it is coming along. We try to push Jamo a little bit more every week in terms of the routes we’re asking him to run, not just for the game, but also for his development and for Jared’s chemistry with him,’’ Johnson said. “We’re trying to see what he’s capable of, and what he’s comfortable with at this point coming off that injury. So, I think we’ll continue to see a growing connection between those two. It’s just time on task.”

5. Don’t play not to fail. This is a young team finding its swagger and learning to win. As the stakes get higher, Campbell has to make sure they don’t get too tight. The coach talked to them at halftime of the Jets win and it worked and he doesn’t think it will be an issue moving forward. “They know that. I don’t feel like I need to beat that one over the head. They get it, and it’s been acknowledged, and now it’s – listen, I think we have a pretty good idea of who we are, where we’re at, and I think more than anything, it’s about – look, we’ve got some guys in this locker room that have won now. I mean we do,’’ Campbell said. “Alex (Anzalone) has won. Jamaal (Williams) has won. (Michael) Brockers has won. Shoot, (Kalif Raymond) Leaf’s won, and then we’ve got a whole slew of young guys that don’t really know. They don’t know any better, and that’s kind of a good thing, honestly.’’

(Prediction: Lions 31, Panthers 21. It could be a Merry Christmas for the Lions if all three units continue to play solid football.)