After a first half that featured three Lions turnovers, a missed field goal and a Green Bay Packers defensive touchdown, families across America sat down to eat Thanksgiving dinner.
"Same old Lions," they surely said, as the tastes and smells of turkey dinner wiped out the memories of an ugly 17-10 game.
Despite dominating in yards gained, first downs converted and nearly every other measurable stat, the Lions' mistakes kept them from pulling ahead further. Reggie Bush sat on the bench, head in hands over yet another lost fumble. Matthew Stafford was hearing it from the Ford Field crowd, having thrown a poor interception on the heels of his four-pick day the prior week.
Everything seemed to be falling apart for the Lions. Luckily for them, the Packers were falling apart faster. By the time America's football fans had slumped down on the couch, belt buckles undone, the Lions were kneeling out the clock on a 40-10 blowout.
Now, the Lions (7-5) take a well-deserved rest before the four-game December schedule that stands between them and the NFC North division title. As for the Packers (5-6-1), their leadership will be taking some well-deserved heat for a roster that clearly can't win without quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Same Old Lions
Coming off a five-turnover implosion against the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the one thing the Detroit Lions couldn't do was turn the ball over.
Yet less than two weeks after telling ESPN's Michael Rothstein and the world "it won't happen again," guaranteeing he wouldn't fumble for the rest of the season, Bush coughed it up on the game's opening drive.
Matt Flynn and the Packers couldn't capitalize, though, and they punted it back to Detroit.
After the Lions drove for a 27-yard David Akers field goal, they couldn't even get the ensuing kickoff right. Sam Martin kicked it out of bounds, putting the Packers on their own 40-yard line. The Packers took advantage, equalizing with a 54-yard field goal of their own in the beginning of the second quarter.
On the very first play of the next drive, Packers pass-rusher Nick Perry blew past Lions left tackle Riley Reiff, stripping Stafford during his windup. Safety Morgan Burnett scooped up the ball and ran it in for the one-yard score, putting the visitors up, 10-3.
The very next drive ended with a Stafford interception, a brutal pick forced to a clearly covered Kris Durham. For the third straight week, it looked like the Lions were going to throw away a golden chance to take control of the NFC North.
Flipping the Script
Matt Flynn and the Packers still couldn't capitalize. The Lions defensive line was beginning to take the game over, harassing Flynn as well as stonewalling star tailback Eddie Lacy. The Packers punted it away with 8:49 left in the second quarter.
That's when the script flipped.
Stafford finally led the Lions down the field for their first offensive touchdown, hitting former Packers receiver Jeremy Ross for a five-yard score. After a Packers three-and-out, a 35-yard punt return by Ross set up a short field for the Lions. Reggie Bush made up for the earlier fumble with a one-yard touchdown plunge.
The Packers, for the third straight possession, went three-and-out.
Taking over at their own 37-yard line with 1:07 left, Stafford and the Lions quickly drove down to the Packers 13-yard line, where they lined up for an easy 31-yard field goal. Just when it looked like the Lions were going to take a solid two-score lead before halftime, though, David Akers pushed the chip shot wide right.
Lions fans tucked into their turkey knowing their team should be up by far more than seven points, while Packers fans were thankful the Lions offense hadn't made the Packers pay for their complete inability to move the ball.
At the start of the third quarter, the Packers—wait for it—went three-and-out.
On the ensuing drive, Stafford hit receiver Calvin Johnson for a 20-yard touchdown at the 9:08 mark of the third. Then, the Lions defense returned the sack-fumble favor by stripping Flynn on the ensuing drive.
Suddenly, the Lions' 24-10 lead looked all but insurmountable.
Stafford tried his best to make it interesting, throwing up a hero ball to Johnson in the back of the end zone on a broken third-down play. Cornerback Sam Shields outplayed Johnson for the ball, however, preventing the Lions from striking the finishing blow.
The Packers could not capitalize.
Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, who was tied for the NFL lead in interceptions going into the game, picked Flynn off on the ensuing drive. On the next Packers possession, Ndamukong Suh made his own statement, blowing through the Packers line and dropping Flynn in the end zone for a safety.
The Lions again received the free kick and made short work of the short field. After a Joique Bell touchdown run capped off a 58-yard touchdown drive minutes into the fourth quarter, the Packers—you guessed it—went three-and-out:
One more Stafford touchdown, a 20-yard-strike to Kevin Ogletree, put the final points on the board. Despite a cornucopia of mistakes, the final score looked like an all-day Lions feast: Lions 40, Packers 10.
The Final Act
The Lions had not only won on Thanksgiving for the first time since 2003, Matthew Stafford beat the Packers as a starter for the first time in his five-year career.
The Lions' two interceptions and two lost fumbles obscure just how dramatically they outperformed the Packers. The Lions outgained the Packers in yardage 561-126. The Lions converted 30 first downs to the Packers' seven. The Lions converted 75 percent (9-of-12) of their third downs—the Packers just 20 percent (2-of-10).
The Lions now have a 1.5-game lead over both the Packers and the Chicago Bears in the NFC North, though the Bears still have a game to play on Sunday. With games left against the Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, the NFC North division crown is Detroit's to lose.
The Packers, though, have been entirely exposed. Flynn went 10-of-20 for 139 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Lacy couldn't move the ball against the Lions, gaining just 16 yards on 10 carries. The Packers defense got four turnovers. but considering the Buccaneers swiped the ball from the Lions five times the week prior, that's hardly impressive.
The Packers are now 5-6-1, trapped in arguably the tightest division in the NFL and staring up at potential NFC Wild Card teams like the 8-3 Carolina Panthers and 7-4 San Francisco 49ers.
These may or may not be the same old Lions; they'll have plenty of opportunities to lose that narrow division lead over the season's final act. What's indisputable, though, is that without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers aren't the same old Packers.