National Columnist

Rodgers' pals make up for Packers QB's ills in key defeat of Lions

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DETROIT -- Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback, maybe the best in the NFL, but he wasn't great Sunday. The numbers say otherwise, but the numbers are telling a whopper. Rodgers wasn't bad, but he wasn't all that good. He damn sure wasn't great.

But receiver Randall Cobb was great. And tight end Jermichael Finley was great. And fairness is great, because for years Rodgers has done for his teammates what his teammates did for him on Sunday. It's only fair that they made him look good.

And because they did, the Packers rallied to defeat the Lions 24-20 in an NFC North game that sent both teams farther down their respective road.

The Lions continued their fade. They've come so far under coach Jim Schwartz, who was hired after the franchise's 0-16 nadir of 2008 and led the team to two victories in 2009, six in 2010, then 10 wins and a spot in the playoffs last season. But the Lions have regressed this season and now, at 4-6 and in last place in the division, the question is how early they'll be on the clock in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The Packers, winners of five in a row, are surging and heading to the playoffs. Only question for them is whether they go as the division champion or with a wild-card spot. Big picture, Rodgers is the key to the whole deal. He was league MVP in 2011 and could repeat this season, and he was -- and is -- deserving of that.

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But on Sunday he was uncharacteristically off, missing open receivers -- two examples from the first quarter alone: a short pass at James Jones' feet, and a potential 31-yard touchdown over Cobb's head -- and throwing an interception right at Lions cornerback Jacob Lacey late in the half. Rodgers also fumbled on a sack, but center Jeff Saturday jumped on the loose ball.

The numbers say Rodgers had a typical game -- his passer rating Sunday was 106.4, better than a career rating of 104.6 that has him on a beeline for the Hall of Fame -- but the numbers are blushing, because they know Rodgers wasn't 106.4 good against the Lions. It sounded like Rodgers knows it, too, given the way he spent his postgame media conference talking down himself, and talking up Cobb and Finley.

"We had to make plays," Rodgers said. "Jermichael and Randall came up with two of the biggest."

Cobb made the winning play, beating Lacey twice for a 22-yard touchdown. First Cobb beat him to the corner of the end zone -- but when Rodgers threw the pass short, Cobb was able to beat Lacey a second time, out-adjusting him to make the sliding catch just ahead of oncoming safety Ricardo Silva. That gave the Packers a 21-20 lead with 1:55 left.

"He put it up there and I had to make a play," Cobb said.

Said Rodgers: "Didn't really throw the best ball there."

Rodgers' first touchdown throw, a 20-yarder in the second quarter, might have been worse. Rodgers had Finley open on a crossing route but almost missed him. The pass was low and behind Finley, who spun in a circle, made the catch near the 5-yard line and then braced for a hit that never came.

"I was waiting for it," Finley said, "but I was so open, nobody was there to hit me."

Finley made an almost equally big play late in the fourth quarter on the drive capped by Cobb's go-ahead touchdown. On second-and-10 from the Packers 30, Finley caught a pass near the line of scrimmage, split three Lions defenders near the sideline and stayed inbounds for a 40-yard gain.

"I didn't expect to get 40 yards out of it," Rodgers said. "You've got to give Jermichael credit for making a big play like that."

The Packers' other touchdown also came through the air -- courtesy of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose second of two interceptions was returned 72 yards by Packers safety M.D. Jennings for a touchdown. Making matters worse, Stafford was penalized on the play for trying, and failing, to cut out the knees of linebacker Brad Jones, who earlier in the game had drawn a penalty for striking Stafford in the head while trying to bat down a pass.

"He was trying to cut me -- you see that?" Jones said. "I don't know what he was thinking, if that was [payback] or what. But he didn't get me, so whatever."

That kind of day for Stafford, who was sacked five times, lost a fumble and had a season-low passer rating of 54.0. In Stafford's defense, his receivers didn't do for him what Green Bay's receivers did for Rodgers; the Lions dropped several passes, two by Calvin Johnson, who had five catches for 143 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Stafford summed up the day in a word:

"Frustrating," he said.

It boiled over on the sideline when receivers coach Shawn Jefferson yelled at offensive coordinator Scott Linehan late in the fourth quarter. Asked about it, Schwartz said he would "rather not go into it."


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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