'Character win': Never leading until the clock strikes 0:00, Packers beat Lions 23-22

'Character win': Never leading until the clock strikes 0:00, Packers beat Lions 23-22

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Jamaal Williams

Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams (30) scores on a 5-yard pass in the second quarter of the Packers' 23-22 win over the Detroit Lions on Monday night at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Williams finished with 104 yards on 14 carries.

GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers did everything they could to lose the game. Then, they did just enough to win it.

Despite a myriad of turnovers, penalties, explosive plays allowed by the defense and missed opportunities from the offense, the Packers got a 23-yard walk-off — or, more accurately, sprint-off — game-winning field goal from veteran kicker Mason Crosby to beat the Detroit Lions, 23-22, Monday night at Lambeau Field.

After trailing 13-0 during the first half, the Packers’ only lead of the night came off Crosby’s right foot as time expired.

“Tonight didn’t feel like a win — until the end,” confessed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “We made some mistakes, turned the ball over a bunch. But there’s a lot of resolve in this team.”

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Packers 23, Lions 22
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Packers 23, Lions 22
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Packers 23, Lions 22
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Packers 23, Lions 22

Crosby, who missed four field goals and an extra point in Detroit last season in the first of the Packers’ two losses to the Lions last year, immediately bee-lined for the south end zone stands and did a Lambeau Leap after the ball went through the uprights, getting a boost into the stands from long-snapper Hunter Bradley.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I tell you what, that was just a tough four-quarter battle against an (NFC) North opponent. Things didn’t go our way early, obviously, but I think it speaks a lot to the character we have in that locker room. We talk about never blinking, and they fought.

”I can’t say enough about our guys and the fight they have. You just have to stay resilient. That’s something we certainly talk about. It’s really cool when you see that stuff come to life — the stuff that you preach each and every day. But again, it’s those guys in that locker room, for them to stay the course, to continue to fight, to battle together, to believe in one another, it’s special to have that group of guys on this football team.”

The victory gave the Packers a 5-1 start under their rookie head coach, with victories over each of their three NFC North division rivals. Last year, the Packers managed just one intra-division victory in six tries.

The Lions, who were well rested coming off their bye week, fell to 2-2-1, while the Packers won their second straight game without No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams, who remains sidelined with a turf toe injury.

The Packers also lost veteran receiver Geronimo Allison to an apparent concussion on the first play of the third quarter, leaving them with only four healthy wideouts: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was briefly sidelined after being violently bent backward while blocking during a late second-quarter Aaron Jones run, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd and Allen Lazard.

“Aaron was spectacular,” LaFleur said of Rodgers, who finished the night having completed 24 of 39 passes for 283 yards with two touchdowns and one interception — a pass that deflected off of Shepherd’s facemask at the 1-yard line and was returned 55 yards. “I thought he was great all night long. You never want to take that for granted. It’s pretty remarkable what he’s able to do out on that field and give the guys confidence that we’re going to get the job done. In that fourth quarter he was certainly calling for Allen.”

Indeed, it was Lazard who keyed the Packers’ comeback, making a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch on a pinpoint Rodgers throw for a 35-yard touchdown with 9 minutes, 3 seconds left in the game to pull the Packers to within 22-20.

“With Davante out and Geronimo going down, we finally get Allen in the game,” Rodgers said. “He’s been doing it in practice a bunch. It was great to see him get an opportunity to make some big plays.

“I see him practice, I sit next to him in meetings, I see the study habits. … I’m very proud of him.”

The Packers defense then got the offense the ball back with 6:46 by forcing a punt, and Lazard again was Rodgers’ go-to guy on the game-winning drive. Rodgers completed three passes to Lazard on the drive for 30 yards, including a 15-yarder on second-and-8 from the Detroit 37-yard line to put the Packers in a more comfortable range for Crosby.

Three plays later, facing third-and-4 from the 16-yard line, Rodgers was nearly sacked but the Lions were flagged for an illegal hands to the face penalty, which came with an automatic first down and put the ball at the Detroit 11.

Running back Jamaal Williams, who keyed the offense all night long with 104 rushing yards and 136 total yards from scrimmage, then broke through the middle and had a clear path to the end zone, but he smartly sat down at the Lions’ 3 to allow the clock to continue running.

After two kneel-downs by Rodgers, Crosby came on and put the game-winner down the middle of the goal posts — an ending that didn’t seem possible after the Lions’ two huge pass plays early in the game (66- and 53-yard deep passes against cornerback Kevin King), the Packers losing the turnover battle 3-0, a host of drops by the receivers and a defensive group that was clutch in the red zone (forcing five field goals) but was reeling for much of the first half.

“It was a character win — that’s what I said in the locker room (to the team) after the game. That means it revealed a lot about our squad,” Rodgers said – pointing to the Packers’ three turnovers (an Aaron Jones fumble, Shepherd’s fumbled punt return and the interception.

“Matt talks a lot about a no-blink mentality. It means, ‘We move on to the next play. You have to have a short memory — that’s important in this business.’ But clichés aside, it’s really about the confidence. Even though we got punched in the mouth a little bit to start the game, I think we responded the right way.”

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