Monday, December 14, 2020

Green Bay Drives to Victory in the Motor City

 By Eric Goska

Aaron Rodgers and Robert Tonyan scored second-half
touchdowns for the Packers in Detroit Sunday.
(screen captures from NFL Game Pass)

Defense less than stellar?

How about putting the ball in the hands of the offense and letting it take the wheel for as long as it can.

Green Bay did precisely that in fending off Detroit 31-24 Sunday. The Packers staged two monster drives to open the second half, advances that yielded much-needed touchdowns while keeping their defense out of harm’s way.

In dispatching the Lions, the Packers (10-3) claimed their seventh NFC North title in the last 10 years. They secured – at least for now – the No. 1 playoff spot in the conference thanks to a Saints loss in Philadelphia.

The team also delivered a vivid reminder that offense is sometimes the best defense.

The Lions rolled to 208 first-half yards. Much of that came on two long drives – 11 plays each – that took nearly 10 minutes off the clock.

D’Andre Swift capped the second expedition with a 3-yard run that tied the game 14-14 late in the second quarter.

Left to free-range in the first half, the Lions stockpiled 17 first downs. Only twice before in the series that dates to 1930 (then the Portsmouth Spartans) did the Motor City Eleven come away with that many before the break: 17 in a 23-10 win on Thanksgiving Day 1960 and 17 in a 40-10 laugher in 2013.

How to keep the Lions at bay?

Green Bay opened the second half by staging a 14-play, 75-yard march that drained 8:49 from the clock. After a three-and-out by Detroit, the Green and Gold chewed through another 7:49 by romping 79 yards in 12 plays.

By the time the Lions’ offense returned to the field for a second time in the second half, the Packers were up 28-14 and just 12:01 remained in the game.

Green Bay tended to pass on its first long drive (10-4) and preferred to run (9-3) on the second. Combine those numbers, and the Packers gained 99 yards on 13 pass plays and 70 yards on 13 rushing plays.

Aaron Rodgers closed out the first foray with a 6-yard scoring run. Robert Tonyan finished off the second by snagging a 4-yard pass from Rodgers.

In between, Detroit possessed the ball for all of 1:21 in the third quarter, gaining four yards on three plays.

This offensive wave left the Lions in the lurch. It also made history in that Green Bay had never unleashed anything quite like it going as far back as 1921.

The Packers have recorded touchdowns on each of their opening two second-half possessions 74 times in the regular season. The team is 66-8 (.892) in those games.

What the club had never done before was hold the ball for a combined 15 minutes-plus on those two back-to-back advances. The 16:38 that came off the clock at Ford Field was nearly three minutes longer than the previous best by the club (13:42) that came in a 44-31 romp over the Vikings in 2013.

Ball control has become a Green Bay specialty this season. The team ranks first in the NFL in this department (33:02 per game) ahead of second-place New Orleans (32:22).

Green Bay has held the ball longer than its opponent in 10 of 13 games. The 35:30 it registered in Detroit was only its fourth-best of the season behind the 41:16 in the opener in Minneapolis and the 37:44 and 36:30 in victories over the Bears and 49ers, respectively.

Not surprisingly, the Green and Gold has orchestrated 16 touchdown drives that have lasted five minutes or longer. That’s a team-best going back through 1970.

With the way the Packers have been holding on to the ball, the team could set the franchise record for the greatest average time of possession in a season. That mark belongs to the 2009 club (33:03) that finished 11-5.

It’s a record worth striving for, if for no other reason than hogging the ball keeps the Packers’ defense from taking the field. The Lions gained far fewer yards (85) in the second half, and though they came away with 10 first downs, four were granted because of penalties on Green Bay’s less-than-stellar defense.

Hogging the Pigskin

Since 1921, consecutive touchdown drives by the Packers to start the second half that took the most time off the clock.

      Time      Plays-Yards        Date              Opponent          Result

       16:38            26-154        Dec. 13, 2020           Lions            GB won, 31-24

       13:42            24-154        Oct. 27, 2013            Vikings         GB won, 44-31

       13:08            25-142       Nov. 23, 1997            Cowboys       GB won, 45-17

       12:52            20-144       Sept. 17, 1989            Saints           GB won, 35-34

       12:35            22-137       Sept. 13, 2015            Bears            GB won, 31-23

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