Detroit — The Detroit Lions emptied the playbook, scoring long touchdowns on a pair of trick plays. But the team needed a late scoring drive and subsequent defensive stop to put away the Green Bay Packers in the season finale Sunday, 37-30, at Ford Field.
With the victory, the Lions (3-13-1) secured the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. A loss would have landed Detroit the No. 1 pick, after the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 26-11 upset of the Indianapolis Colts. The Jaguars are 3-14.
After coughing up an 11-point edge to the Packers, who had pulled many of their key starters at the half, the Lions drove 75 yards in six plays to regain the lead on a 14-yard D’Andre Swift touchdown run inside two minutes remaining.
And safety C.J. Moore essentially sealed the victory for Detroit, intercepting Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love on the third play of the ensuing possession.
“I had a guy (to cover), but he was blocking,” Moore said. “I just was looking for work, and I saw the ball thrown. The ball was tipped, and shoot, I’m glad I had some good concentration at the moment. It fell right in my lap, and I made the play.”
A field goal following the pick provided the Packers one more opportunity with 48 seconds remaining, but Love was intercepted again by Tracy Walker.
“It just allows us to know that we ain’t holding back nothing,” Walker said about the aggressive game plan. “That’s just what every team’s gotta realize when they play us. You’re gonna get the best of the best of us. We ain’t holding nothing back, and we’re going to play ball. You come in here to play the Detroit Lions, don’t think it’s just gonna be a walk in the park.
“I think that’s what goes around in the league, that because we’re the Detroit Lions, everyone underestimates us because of the past history, but nah,” Walker said. “This is a new team. This is a new foundation that’s being built here. We’re going to continue to grow as a team.”
Those turnovers contrasted how the day started for Detroit’s defense.
After allowing the Seattle Seahawks to score on nine consecutive possessions a week earlier, it was more of the same for the Lions to start this contest. The Packers took the opening kickoff and drove 74 yards on 13 plays for an early touchdown.
Green Bay converted four third downs during the possession, including rookie nickelback AJ Parker whiffing on tackle in the open field against Packers receiver Davante Adams. Then, on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, wideout Allen Lazard was able to shake the coverage of cornerback Will Harris to catch a scoring strike from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Detroit’s defense would settle down after the Packers took over in opposing territory following a botched fake punt, which saw punter Jack Fox’s throw go through the hands of running back Godwin Igwebuike.
Despite the prime field position, Green Bay couldn’t take advantage, going three-and-out when Rodgers was sacked on third down by linebacker Jessie Lemonier.
Pinned deep after the punt, the Lions needed just three plays to tie the game. Following a 17-yard catch by Amon-Ra St. Brown — a grab which gave him the most receiving yards for a rookie in franchise history — the Lions dialed up a trick play.
Taking the snap, quarterback Jared Goff faked a pitch to receiver Kalif Raymond, who had lined up in the backfield, before handing off to St. Brown heading left. Almost immediately, he tossed the ball back to receiver Tom Kennedy, going the opposite direction. As the Packers scrambled, Kennedy delivered an in-stride pass to Raymond, racing down the right sideline, for a 75-yard touchdown.
“I think our coaches designed perfect plays,” St. Brown said. “Against Atlanta (last month), we ran that play where I come across and get the handoff twice. Actually before that play that Tom Kennedy threw, I’m lined up, and all I hear from the sidelines is, ’14’s getting the ball coming across, 14’s getting the ball!’ And I’m just smiling, because I already know what’s about to happen. I get the ball, give it to TK and TK just throws a dime to Kalif. So it was perfect.”
Green Bay responded by quickly moving across midfield, but Detroit’s defense did a nice job tightening the screws. Cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu broke up a deep pass intended for Adams on third down and Walker dropped tight end Josiah Deguara short of the sticks on fourth down, turning the ball back to the team’s offense.
St. Brown led the charge on the series, catching passes of 9, 16 and 21 yards, each for a first down. That led to a fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Setting the record for most fourth-down attempts in a season on the play, the Lions also matched the record for conversions when Goff found St. Brown for the touchdown to put the Lions up, 14-7.
The Packers wasted little time responding, moving across midfield with a pair of AJ Dillion carries for 13 yards and a 16-yard play-action pass to Adams. Four plays later, Rodgers successfully ran play-action again. Taking advantage of Lazard getting matched up with linebacker Derrick Barnes, the quarterback floated a pass beyond the reach of the defender for a 29-yard touchdown.
A missed extra point left the Packers trailing by one, and the Lions were able to extend their edge to four before the half, converting another fourth down during the two-minute drive. That set up a 34-yard Riley Patterson field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter.
Detroit’s offense failed to immediately capitalize on the momentum after the break, going three-and-out, but the defense was able to force a quick turnover.
With Love replacing Rodgers at quarterback — an expected move given the Packers (13-4) had locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC last week — the new QB flicked a throw to receiver Amari Rodgers, who had the ball punched free by Parker. Melifonwu recovered the fumble, giving the Lions possession at the Packers 38-yard line.
Diving deep into the playbook again, Goff handed off to running back Jamaal Williams, who flipped it to St. Brown before the ball was hot-potatoed back to the quarterback. The repeated misdirection left the Packers scrambling and tight end Brock Wright came open down the sideline for a touchdown to push Detroit’s lead to 24-13.
According to Kennedy, the play call was implemented at the suggestion of backup quarterback David Blough, who successfully ran it multiple times while playing at Purdue.
The Packers were able to get back within a score on the ensuing possession. Driving into the red zone, the Lions defense clamped down, leading to a 35-yard Mason Crosby field goal.
Green Bay’s defense and special teams were able to keep the pressure on, forcing another three-and-out before partially blocking Fox’s punt. That gave the Packers a short field, starting at their own 43-yard line.
With more and more backups entering the game for Packers, third-string running back Patrick Taylor ran eight times for 40 yards on the 57-yard scoring drive, capping the action with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. But a failed two-point conversion left the Packers trailing, 24-22, with 14:12 remaining.
The Lions answered with a plodding, 14-play drive that ate more than 7½ minutes off the clock before stalling in the red zone. Patterson knocked home a 36-yard field goal, making it 27-22 with 6:39 on the clock.
Green Bay needed four plays to take their first lead since 7-0.
After Taylor converted a third-and-1, the Packers ran a tight end screen to Deguara, who plowed through a tackle attempt by Walker and rumbled 62 yards to the end zone. Love followed it up with a successful two-point conversion on a zone-read keeper, extending the lead to three, 30-27.
“I know I gotta make that tackle, but I’m human,” Walker said. “He gets paid on the other side of the ball as well, so shoutout to him for making me miss, but like I said, I had to go out and make a play, and I was able to make that play. I made up for it in the long run.”
Walker finished with a career-high 14 tackles in addition to his late-game interceptions.
But the Lions refused to go quietly as Goff quickly completed three passes for 46 yards, highlighted by a 28-yard throw to St. Brown, as the game reached the two-minute warning. That reception pushed the rookie over the century mark for the second consecutive week.
Coming out of the stoppage, the Lions regained the lead when Swift bounced a handoff around the left edge and raced across the goal line for a 14-yard touchdown.
“Lif (Raymond) had a great block on the outside, made my job easy,” Swift said. “Great way to go out. Great way to end the season.”
After Moore’s interception, Patterson added his third field goal of the afternoon to provide the final margin of victory.
“We went out and finished on a high note,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “In some regards, I did think we played some of our best football. There’s still a lot that we always want to be able to correct and it will never be perfect, but we said we wanted to go take the hard road one more time and our guys did that. They really did. They came out and competed and earned that win. I was proud of them.”