Although the Detroit Lions fought for Wild Card positioning, the game was mostly meaningless to the Packers, who elected to rest several starters.
The Lions gave it their all, turning the game into a shootout that was competitive right up until the final few seconds. In the end, though, the Packers came away with a 45-41 win.
Since we were watching a totally different Packers team than we are used to because of the many benched starters, there were many interesting lessons to be learned. Over the next 10 slides, we will go over some of them.
With the No. 1 seed in the NFC locked up, it is the right of the Green Bay Packers to rest some of their starters. After all, why risk injury in a meaningless game?
That being said, resting starters has proved time and again to be a poor overall coaching decision.
Many high-seeded teams who have rested players at the end of the season have found it difficult to regain their stride in the playoffs. Teams who rest starters also tend to lose the final game or games of the season, which is a terrible way to limp into the playoffs.
The Packers may have won the game and avoided that particular trap, but there were clear holes all over the field where starting players were badly missed.
It took Matt Flynn a little bit of time to find his stride on the field, but once he got himself grounded, he was able to execute a record-setting game under center. At the end of the day, he set a franchise record with six touchdown passes and 480 yards compared with just one interception.
Let me repeat this: In his only start of the year, Flynn set a franchise record for passing touchdowns.
His passer rating was 136.
Imagine what Flynn could do if he was taking regular reps with the rest of the starters, or if he had a squad of his very own to command instead of playing backup to Aaron Rodgers. He only has room to grow.
There are football squads in the NFL who would kill for a quarterback who could do that.
Flynn will be a free agent at the end of the season, so in a way, it was nice that he could showcase his skills in this game. He has too much potential to spend more of his career warming the bench as a backup.
When Aaron Rodgers was sitting on the bench behind Brett Favre, how often did you ever see Favre standing on the sidelines with a headset when it was Rodgers’ turn to take the field?
It was a pretty uncommon sight.
Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, has embraced the role of mentor to Matt Flynn much more readily.
Time and again, Rodgers has made it clear that it is not about him, but about the team. It really showed today as he stood huddled on the sideline helping to call the shots for Flynn.
On the first play of the game, backup returner Pat Lee fumbled the opening kickoff. Disaster was averted when the ball was knocked out of the back of the end zone, but warning flags should have gone up at that point.
On the next kickoff, Lee fumbled the ball a second time. This time, however, the ball actually left the end zone before Lee pulled it back in and tried to take a knee.
That was a safety.
It was arguably one of the dumbest plays that has happened in the entire NFL over the course of the entire season, and it represented the second time in as many touches that Lee had made an atrocious mistake with the ball.
The Packers were totally right to yank him from any further return duties.
Pat Lee Has No Business Returning Kickoffs
Ryan Grant may have spent most of the season as a starter in name only, as James Starks took touches away from him, but he’s working hard to get his job back for the playoffs.
As Starks watched from the sidelines, Grant made his mark on the team’s running game. At the end of the day, he came away with 48 yards on 12 carries, as well as a catch for 80 yards and a touchdown.
There’s something pretty special about Jordy Nelson, who is emerging as a major threat at wide receiver.
He’s a big guy, which gives him a huge range of flexibility when it comes to making jaw-dropping receptions. He’s got great control of his body, and he’s faster than most teams give him credit for, which creates a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators.
Against the Lions, with a backup quarterback throwing to him, Nelson ended the day with 162 receiving yards and three touchdowns. It was a big day for him, but that was just the cherry on top of an unexpectedly amazing season.
The Packers were right to lock this guy up to a longer-term contract during the season.
Last year, the Packers played sloppy football. They were consistently near the top of the league in penalties and penalty yards.
This year, it has been a completely different story. The Packers have played relatively clean all season, averaging just around four penalties per game.
The Lions were able to bring out the worst in the Packers. This was particularly evident on a drive that had stalled not once, but twice, and was subsequently kept alive by a pair of personal foul penalties on Desmond Bishop and Eric Walden.
The touchdown that was scored on that drive put the Lions ahead in the third quarter, breathing new life into a Lions team that was on its way to a potential knockout punch.
Mason Crosby may have missed a field goal during the game, but that’s a fact of life in a kicking game.
What really stood out was the way that Crosby came up big on the field after a big kickoff return by Stefan Logan. The ball was forced out, and it was Crosby who came away with the recovered fumble.
That type of follow-through on the field is exactly the type of play that you want from a kicker. He isn’t just a last resort; he’s part of the action and working towards being a difference-maker.
The Packers defense has struggled all year to get competitive and to keep the opposition from marching up and down the field at will.
They’ve managed to do a pretty good job of keeping points off the board for the most part through a series of red zone stands and timely turnovers.
The game this week was no different, with the Lions piling up 550 yards over the course of the game. It is just fortunate for the Packers that their offense was able to keep up, even without the benefit of Aaron Rodgers under center.
In an uncomfortable reminder of last year’s playoff games, the Packers found a victory today thanks to a late-game interception by Sam Shields.
That’s how close the game was as the clock wound down.
The Packers have a high-powered offense capable of putting tons of points on the board, but the defense has given up a bunch of late-game leads to bring games that should have been easy wins down to nail-biters.
Fortunately for the Pack, individual defenders have mostly been able to come up with big plays when they matter the most. This will be a big area of concern heading into the playoffs, though.