GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers added even more spice to next weekend's game at Soldier Field, moving within a win over the Bears of clinching the NFC North title with their 27-20 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night.
DaJuan Harris rushed for a score in the first NFL game of his career, Aaron Rodgers added the longest TD run of his career and Mike Daniels returned a fumble 43 yards as the Packers (9-4) opened a one-game lead over the Bears. Beat the Bears next weekend at Soldier Field, and Green Bay wins the NFC North for a second straight year.
Calvin Johnson had 118 yards receiving to put him over 1,500 for the year, but it wasn't enough to keep the Lions (4-9) from dropping their fifth straight. This was the third straight game they've blown a lead of 10-plus points, tying an NFL record shared by six other teams. After touchdowns on their first two drives, the Lions could only manage a pair of field goals by Jason Hanson.
The Packers have now won 22 straight at home against the Lions, the longest streak in the NFL.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy likes to say that all division games are big, but this one got even bigger when Chicago lost to Minnesota earlier in the day. If the Packers win the division, it would be quite a turnaround from their 2-3 start.
Beating the Lions seemed like it would be the easy part, but Green Bay was sluggish for most of the first half. But Daniels' fumble recovery seemed to energize the Packers, and they took the lead on a 27-yard scoring run by Rodgers in the third quarter.
Peering through the flurries that made Lambeau Field look like a snow globe for most of the night, Rodgers was trying to find someone – anyone – to throw to on third-and-4. With Lions defensive end Willie Young closing in, Rodgers scrambled away and found a hole on the right side. He ran untouched down the sideline, holding the ball out as he crossed the goal line.
It was the longest TD run of his career, and the Packers' longest on the ground this season.
The Packers have struggled to get their running game going all season, and were forced to bring back veteran Ryan Grant this week after oft-injured James Starks hurt his knee in last week's win over Minnesota. Cedric Benson is on injured reserve with a sprained foot.
But with the winter's first significant storm at Lambeau Field, the Packers finally got in gear on the ground. They rushed for 140 yards, and got contributions from all of their running backs on the go-ahead drive.
Alex Green rushed for 29 yards on the first four plays, then Grant broke off a 13-yard gain. Then it was Harris' turn. Elevated from the practice squad just eight days ago, his 5-yard gain put the Packers at the Detroit 14. He strolled in untouched on the next play, giving the Packers a 24-17 lead.
It was the second touchdown rushing of the night, the first time since last Dec. 11 the Packers had two scores on the ground in one game. It also almost doubled their total for the season, giving them five touchdowns on the ground.
The Lions pulled within a score on Hanson's 34-yard field goal with 7 seconds left. But the onside kick went out of bounds, and the Packers ran out the clock.