Here come the Packers in the NFC North – and the Lions feel a familiar dread
You can almost feel the dread coming from Detroit this morning. This is a familiar sensation for Lions fans, after all. Their team has never been to a Super Bowl, has won just one playoff game in 59 years and last celebrated a division title in 1993. People want to talk about the suffering in Cleveland, but you can’t talk about misery without understanding the darkness that has been the in Detroit.
On Sunday the Lions practically held the NFC North title in their hands. All that had to happen was they beat the New York Giants and have the lose or tie in Chicago. Given the way Detroit had been playing (with five straight victories) and the way the Packers have been inconsistent, a title on Sunday seemed a reasonable hope. But those who have spent their lifetimes following the Lions knew better than to expect glory.
And their pessimism was rewarded.
Their 17-6 loss in New Jersey wasn’t the worst thing to happen to Detroit on Sunday. There’s no shame in losing to the second-best team in the NFC East, especially when Odell Beckham Jr makes another one-handed touchdown catch. No, the worst thing happened 700 miles to the west, where the Packers not only beat the Bears 30-27, but they found a running game while doing so.
All year, people have wondered what is wrong with the Packers. Much of the blame has fallen on either quarterback Aaron Rodgers or coach Mike McCarthy. And yet one of Green Bay’s biggest problems this season is that they averaged fewer than 100 yards a game rushing. Running backs James Starks and Eddie Lacy have been injured for great chunks of the season and without much of a ground attack, Rodgers hasn’t been as dominant as in past years.
But lately the Packers have been playing better, having won three straight before this weekend. Then on Sunday the Packers found their running back. Even if he isn’t actually a running back.
McCarthy did something imaginative on Sunday. He started wide receiver Ty Montgomery in the back field. And Montgomery raced through the Bears defense in a -4F wind chill looking with the improbable No88 jersey on his back. He carried the ball 16 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns. And with Montgomery thundering across the field, Rodgers suddenly looked better, throwing for 252 yards in the frosty air including a 60-yard pass late in the fourth quarter that set up the winning field goal.
In some ways, Montgomery’s afternoon shouldn’t be a surprise. At 5ft 11in and 216lbs he was a receiver in an RB’s body. But coaches have been perplexed by how to use Montgomery for years. In college, at Stanford, he was a kind of hybrid running back and receiver who also returned punts and kicks. The Packers turned him into a receiver where he became effective earlier this season until need forced McCarthy to move Montgomery to occasionally fill in at running back. With both Starks and Lacy out, McCarthy could have gone with the recently picked-up Christine Michael but instead chose Montgomery.
It was a perfect decision. Montgomery pulled off one 61-yard run and broke into Chicago’s secondary several other times. With Michael adding 45 yards and Rodgers another 19, the Packers moved from 23rd in the league in rushing to 15th.
“Honestly I felt like half of Ty’s runs, he was just breaking tackle after tackle,” Green Bay guard TJ Lang . “It seemed like we didn’t really have to block anybody in order for him to squirt out of there. It’s just a huge day for him. He’s a guy who’s gotten better every single week.”
What happens now to the Lions? They can feel the Packers chasing them down. They now lead the NFC North by just a game and play next Monday night at Dallas. Two days before, Green Bay hosts the Vikings, who have collapsed after starting the year 5-0. It is highly likely the Lions lose next week and the Packers win. That means both teams will be tied going into the final game, which fatefully, will be against each other in Detroit’s Ford Field.
A game no Lions fan will feel good about.
Gif of the week
Two things that never get old this year: gifs of the Browns and gifs of NFL coaches trying to get replay flags that have been buried deep in hefty winter parkas. So why not have one that includes both? It kind of sums up the Browns season. At least Robert Griffin III played better with 198 passing yards and another 48 rushing. Griffin also has his team’s only two touchdowns the last two weeks – both with his feet. So there is that.
Fantasy player of the week
Andrew Luck has not lived up to his surname the last couple of years. Once touted as the next Peyton Manning, he has looked all too fallible as injuries and a weak offensive line have defined his career. He hasn’t had a 300-yard passing game since October and many of his games littered with at least one interception. On Sunday he didn’t need to throw for 300 yards in the Colts’ victory over the Vikings, his 250 passing yards were plenty on a day when Indianapolis had a balanced attack. But he did throw two touchdowns and more importantly he has not been intercepted in two of his last three games.
Quote of the week
“It was a road game. It was like being in Oakland. Except there were more people.”
It was a weary San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers who addressed reporters after Sunday’s 19-16 loss to Oakland that gave the Raiders the AFC West title. It was bad enough to lose on a late field-goal and to also be eliminated from the playoffs. It was even harder to do so in a home stadium filled with fans of their hated rivals to the north. The Chargers’ time in San Diego appears to be coming to an inglorious end. With voters rejecting a tax initiative to pay for a new stadium and team owner Dean Spanos seemingly determined to move the team to Los Angeles, Chargers fans appear to have given up. Most of the 68,352 in Qualcomm Stadium were cheering for the Raiders. The Chargers will play what might be their last game in the city on 1 January against Kansas City. Will anyone be there to watch?
Stat of the week
$72m. This is the total value of the four-year contract quarterback Brock Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans in the offseason At the time, Houston thought they were getting an amazing steal in buying themselves a franchise quarterback for $37m guaranteed. The purchase should have come with enough warnings including the fact he was a competent but hardly dominant starter replacing Peyton Manning in Denver last season. Now Houston might have buyer’s remorse. Osweiler has hardly been the quarterback around whom the Texans want to build and after two interceptions on Sunday he was replaced by Tom Savage, who had thrown just 19 passes in his NFL career.
Bonus stat of the week
-19F. This was the wind chill in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium when the Chiefs faced the Tennessee Titans on Sunday (that’s -28 for those of you who work in celsius). In fact it was the coldest game in the stadium’s history, surpassing the previous low of -9F. At one point, the fuses in one of the scoreboards froze, rendering it unusable. Worse than the cold was Andy Reid’s decision to ice (as if the frigid air wasn’t enough) Titans kicker Ryan Succop by calling a time out as Succop attempted a 53-yard, game-winning field goal. Succop missed the first kick that was wiped out by the time out but nailed the second for a 19-17 Titans victory that put them into a tie for first in the AFC South.
Elsewhere around the league
-- Ezekiel Elliott definitely had celebration of the day, jumping into a Salvation Army kettle and hiding after scoring a touchdown in the Cowboys’ 26-20 victory over the Buccaneers. You can afford to mess about when you have Elliott’s abilities: he rushed for 159 yards in another strong performance in his rookie year.
-- Steelers receiver Antonio Brown set the record for the most receptions in a four-year period when he made his 470th catch in that span in Sunday’s 24-20 come-from-behind victory in Cincinnati. Brown passed Marvin Harrison who had 469 catches between 1999-2002. He still has two more games to add to his record.
-- The Ravens dodged disaster when a frantic, last-second two-point pass attempt at the end of Sunday’s game allowing Baltimore to escape with a 27-26 victory over the Eagles. The Ravens hold a one-game lead over Pittsburgh for first place in the AFC North. It was also the second week in a row in which Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz came up short in rallies against Washington-Baltimore area teams.