Faced with the possibility of falling a full three games behind the Detroit Lions in the win column, the Green Bay Packers leaned on a much-maligned defense to provide the fuel for a 22-9 win over their NFC North rivals Sunday.
Dom Capers' unit all but buried a Lions offense that was missing All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson, who surprisingly sat out when knee soreness forced Detroit to declare him inactive, per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com. Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and a ragtag collection of receivers could only muster 276 yards of total offense and just nine points, six of which came in garbage time and with the game long decided.
Regardless of how important Johnson's absence so clearly was, the Packers defense played arguably its most complete game of the 2013 season. A unit that came into Week 5 allowing 29.3 points and 404 yards per game flipped the script Sunday.
The Lions averaged just 4.5 yards per play and made their only trip into the red zone during the final three minutes. The nine total points were down over three touchdowns from Detroit's season average of 30.5, and the 276 yards set a new season low.
Bush, who quickly became the focal point when Johnson was declared inactive, rushed 13 times for just 44 yards, and he finished the contest with only 69 total yards—a far cry from the 144 he was averaging to start this season.
Like so many times in the past, the Lions were forced to abandon the running game and put everything on Stafford's shoulders. On Sunday, Detroit called 45 passes and just 18 runs.
The Packers feasted on a one-dimensional passing game that was missing its two most reliable targets.
With Johnson in sweats on the sideline and Nate Burleson still nursing a broken arm, Stafford completed only nine of 18 passes to receivers. Kris Durham caught just three of eight targets, while Ryan Broyles, Patrick Edwards and Kevin Ogletree struggled to get open. Stafford's other 16 completions came to running backs and tight ends as he was forced time and time again to check down.
The defense's revival came at a time when Green Bay absolutely needed a rebound.
A losing effort would have dropped the Packers to 1-3 to start this season, while also boosting the Lions to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the division. The season was never going to end for Green Bay in Week 5— regardless of the outcome—but a three-game deficit in the win column would have provided a sizable hill to climb over the final 12 games.
The start-to-finish performance from the defense allowed the Packers to survive some early struggles on offense.
A Green Bay offense averaging 32.0 points and 455 yards over its first three games went into halftime with only six and 153. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers ended the first half with just 105 yards passing, and the Packers had two long drives to start the game end only in field-goal attempts.
Most weeks, Green Bay would have found itself in trouble with those kinds of offensive numbers after 30 minutes of play. Not on this day.
The Packers clamped down on defense and forced six punts and one turnover on downs over Detroit's 10 offensive drives. In fact, Detroit punted on six of its first seven possessions, and that allowed the Packers offense to finally take control in the second half.
Rodgers found James Jones for an 83-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and three more Mason Crosby field goals gave Green Bay a 22-3 cushion late into the final period. Stafford eventually led a touchdown drive, but it was too little, too late for the Lions offense.
An offensive line that had allowed just three sacks of Stafford this season—an NFL-low among starting quarterbacks—gave up a season-high five to the Packers. Former first-round pick Nick Perry posted the first two-sack game of his NFL career, and defensive lineman-turned-linebacker Mike Neal (one sack) was a handful for most of the afternoon. Brad Jones and Clay Matthews each tallied a sack before exiting with injuries.
Even inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, a popular whipping boy for fans, put together another solid game in a season of underappreciated performances from him.
Overall, the Packers defense provided a complete performance that was both needed and expected given the Lions' losses on offense.
Injuries can obviously shape a game in a flash, and it was painfully obvious how badly the Lions missed Johnson and his field-stretching abilities. But to their credit, the Packers soundly beat a weakened side in a game that was as close to a must-win in Week 5 as possible.
With a 2-2 mark, and the gap in the division standings shrinking, the Packers' 2013 season is back on track. A dominant showing from a resurrected defense deserves the praise.