Green Bay, Wis. — Misery loves company, but for these Detroit Lions, there was joy to be found beyond making sure the Green Bay Packers’ season ended the same way theirs did earlier Sunday: Being knocked out of the playoffs.
The young and resilient Lions overcame the cold and some costly penalties to top the Packers, 20-16 at Lambeau Field, in the final game of the 2022-23 regular season. The victory, the Lions’ eighth in 10 games, ensured the franchise’s first winning record since 2017, an accomplishment all the more impressive given the team’s 1-6 start to the season.
Running back Jamaal Williams, running hard against his former team, scored twice, breaking Barry Sanders’ single season franchise record with 17 rushing touchdowns. While safety Kerby Joseph, making up for a negated interception earlier in the second half, picked off Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the third time this season to help salt the victory away.
BOX SCORE: Lions 20, Packers 16
On fourth-and-one with 1:15 remaining, the Lions (9-8) opted to go for it instead of settling for a field goal, converting on a pass to DJ Chark to end it.
Before the late-game theatrics, the game got off to a slow start. If you enjoy the art of field-goal kicking, the first half was right up your alley. The teams combined for five through two quarters, with the Packers (8-9) taking a 9-6 lead into the locker room.
The Packers took the game’s opening kickoff and quickly worked into Lions territory thanks to a 46-yard pass interference penalty committed by cornerback Jerry Jacobs while covering Allen Lazard deep down the right sideline.
But Detroit’s defense tightened in the red zone after the infraction with defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs coming up with stops on both first and second down. Then Rodgers and running back AJ Dillon wound up on different pages on a missed connection in the end zone on third down.
Taking a 3-0 lead on a short Mason Crosby field goal, the teams traded possessions before the Lions were able to match. Taking over on Green Bay’s side of the field after linebacker Alex Anzalone dropped Lazard behind the line on a fourth-down end-around, Detroit got a 37-yard, tying field goal from Michael Badgley.
The Packers countered with a 49-yard Crosby kick after Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson ended the series with a sack on third down. And the two teams replayed that scenario on the Packers’ next series, with Hutchinson getting another sack, leading to a 48-yard make by Crosby that extended the lead to six, 9-3.
Detroit missed two scoring chance on their ensuing possession after a 67-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Williams was negated by a blatant hold by guard Jonah Jackson and Badgley missed a 46-yarder wide left. But the kicker managed to slice Green Bay’s advantage back to three on the final play of the first half.
Taking possession after cornerback Will Harris recovered running back Aaron Jones’ fumble with 1:16 remaining in the second quarter, Lions quarterback Jared Goff completed a series of short throws to get the offense into Badgley’s range. What should have been a 48-yard effort, ended up being just 33 yards after Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas committed an unnecessary roughness infraction, taking a swing at Lions offensive lineman Dan Skipper between snaps.
The offensive struggles continued after the break with the Lions going three-and-out with the first drive of the second half, and the Packers stalling out across midfield before Crosby missed a 53-yarder that banged off the crossbar, giving the Lions excellent starting field position.
It took Detroit three plays to capitalize. Kickstarted by a 13-yard Jamaal Williams run, Goff rolled out to his left after faking a handoff and found receiver Kalif Raymond for 46 yards down to the 1-yard line. From there, Williams finished the job, matching Sanders’ single-season record with his 16th rushing touchdown of the season to give the Lions their first lead of the night, 13-9.
That lead proved to be short-lived as the Packers answered with a nine-play, 83-yard touchdown drive. After converting a pair of third downs early in the series, Rodgers connected with rookie Christian Watson for 45 yards, working against cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who had just entered the game as an injury replacement.
Two plays later, Rodgers’ found Lazard on a crosser for the 13-yard score to put the Packers back in front, 16-13, late in the third quarter.
After quickly punting the ball back to the Packers, the Lions appeared to have come up with another turnover when Joseph undercut and intercepted a deep ball intended for Jones. But the big play was negated by a penalty at the line of scrimmage, much like Williams’ touchdown earlier in the contest. This time it was defensive lineman John Cominsky drawing a flag for illegal hands to the face.
Still, the Lions defense managed to overcome the heartbreaking blunder to force a punt and marched down the field behind Williams and backfield mate D’Andre Swift, who combined for 53 yards on the ground and through the air.
Swift ended up suffering an injury late in the drive, and during the stoppage in play, Packers linebacker Quay Walker shoved a member of Detroit’s medical staff, earning a personal foul and ejection. With a fresh set of downs at the 5-yard line, the Lions handed off to Williams three straight times before the back got across the goal line to break Sanders’ record, putting the Lions ahead, 20-16, with 5:55 remaining.
And making up for his robbed opportunity earlier in the game, Joseph intercepted Rodgers on the next possession, taking advantage of a deep ball that hung in the air a little longer after the quarterback was clobbered by Anzalone as he uncorked the bomb.
From there, the Lions did what they could to kill clock, all while working into field goal range. With an opportunity to kick and take a seven-point lead in the closing minutes, the Lions opted instead to go for it on fourth down, which they converted to end the Packers’ season.