GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — While other teams face complicated playoff scenarios and confusing tiebreakers, the task is quite simple for the Green Bay Packers.
Beat the Bears at Soldier Field next weekend and the NFC North title is theirs.
The Packers opened a one-game lead over Chicago with their 27-20 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night. The Bears had lost at Minnesota a few hours earlier, ceding control of the division to a team that began the year 2-3.
“I kind of did some foreshadowing the last couple weeks about this is how some of these games are going to go,” Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s going to be ugly at times, but the main thing is the wins. We’re 9-4 right now, we’re first in the division by a game, putting ourselves in good position, not only for the division but potentially maybe for a first-round bye.
“The division is the first goal,” he added. “We can wrap things up next week. It’s a tough opponent, a tough place to play, a lot on the line.”
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There’s little on the line for the Lions except pride.
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. After touchdowns on their first two drives gave them a 14-0 lead, the Lions crossed midfield six times but could only manage a pair of field goals by Jason Hanson.
Detroit tied an NFL record by losing its third straight game in which it blew a lead of 10-plus points, according to STATS Inc.
“We’re probably the best three-quarter football team in the league,” Stephen Tulloch said. “And then in the fourth quarter we don’t find a way to win games. Unfortunately, that’s the way football is, sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t. This season, that hasn’t gone our way. We haven’t had a break and we just haven’t finished.”
Actually, the Lions started unraveling in the second quarter and Green Bay made the most of the switch in momentum.
The season’s first significant storm dumped almost 3.5 inches of snow on Green Bay, making Lambeau Field look like a snow globe for most of the night and the football glisten with moisture. As Matthew Stafford drew his arm back to throw midway through the second quarter and with the Lions up 14-0, the ball slipped out of his hands.
“I don’t really have much of an explanation for it,” Stafford said. “I wish I could have gotten on top of it. It squirted away from me again.”
And Packers rookie Mike Daniels was right there to scoop it up, rumbling 43 yards for the score that pulled Green Bay within 14-10. He is Green Bay’s first rookie defensive lineman to return a fumble for a TD since 1941.
“Mike Daniels’ play was the momentum shift for us that we needed,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That was a big play.”
His Lambeau Leap needs some work, however. Daniels only managed to get about halfway up the wall, hanging there as fans pounded him on the back.
“I was too tired,” Daniels said.
The Packers forced another turnover on the next drive when Sam Shields picked off Stafford. But they couldn’t do anything with the ball, and went into halftime still trailing.
“It didn’t start the way we wanted it to … (but) our guys just keep playing, keep punching,” McCarthy said. “The impressive part of our football team is it’s just not a couple of guys making a play. We had a lot of different guys make plays tonight.”
Rodgers gave the Packers their first lead of the day, scrambling away from Lions defensive end Willie Young and running 27 yards for the score. It the longest scoring run of Rodgers’ career, and also was Green Bay’s longest rushing touchdown of the season.
The Lions tied it at 17 on Hanson’s 46-yard field goal. But the Packers got another boost from a most unlikely source: their running game.
Plagued by inconsistency and injuries all year, Green Bay’s running game had accounted for just three scores coming into Sunday. But the Packers kept the ball on the ground for all seven plays in the game-winning drive, running over the Lions on one carry after another.
They used all three of their running backs — Alex Green, recent returnee Ryan Grant and DaJuan Harris — and picked up at least two yards on each play. They had double-digit gains on three carries, including Harris’ 14-yard scoring run.
“That’s what your linemen want, that’s what the backs want. That’s the way we play football here in December,” McCarthy said. “At that point in the game, you could feel it was starting to tilt. That was a big series for us.”
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 countdown to the Packers-Bears game was on.
“I’m focused on going to Chicago and winning the division,” McCarthy said.
NOTES: The Packers scored twice on the ground for the first time since Dec. 11, 2011. … Rodgers failed to throw a TD pass at Lambeau, ending a 35-game streak. … Lions DT Nick Fairley sacked Rodgers for the third time this season. … Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew did not return for the second half after injuring his ankle.
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