Even before quarterback Aaron Rodgers reinjured his left calf muscle late in the first half, McCarthy had decided to take the Lions' strength head on with running back Eddie Lacy.
"I had one goal in mind: to make sure he touched it 20 times," McCarthy said. "I had to make sure he got his trips to the plate against this defense. I thought our offensive line really looked forward to the challenge all week, both in the run blocking and the pass protection. And I thought Eddie definitely delivered."
With 100 yards on 26 attempts, Lacy became the first running back to reach triple figures on the Lions this season. Only one other team had even reached the 100-yard mark against the Lions this season, and that happened way back in Week 4, when the New York Jets ran for 132. The Packers bettered that with 152 yards against a run defense that ended up allowing just 69.3 yards per game this season.
Lacy said he had no idea that before Sunday no back had reached 100 yards against the Lions this season.
"I just knew it was tough to run the ball [against them]," said Lacy, who had just 36 yards on 11 carries in the Week 3 loss to the Lions at Ford Field.
With an offensive line that has been intact for all but one start this season and an 1,139-yard back in Lacy, the Packers finished 11th in the league in rushing yards per game.
If the Packers can run the ball against the Lions, perhaps they can run it on anyone they'll face in the postseason.
"I think we have that mentality every week," left guard Josh Sitton said. "This offensive line has kinda come together, and we've been playing some good ball and having some good games in big situations. … We played well. Eddie ran his [expletive] off. That guy's tough, man."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Packers have more football to play this season, but they also know what they will face next season.
With Sunday's win over the Lions, the Packers will play a first-place schedule in 2015. In reality, that determines only two games and as NFC North champs, they will play at the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers and host the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys.
As part of the divisional rotation, the Packers play the NFC West and AFC West next season in addition to their home-and-home series with their own division foes.
Here's the full list of 2015 opponents:
Home: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Cowboys.
Away: Bears, Lions, Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and Panthers.
The exact schedule won't be known for several months, but it's clear the Packers will have some long road trips next season.
In case you missed it from ESPN.com:
- How big was Aaron Rodgers' return from his calf injury? The Packers' postseason could've been much different if he had not come back against the Lions.
- The Packers weren't happy with Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who stepped on Rodgers twice.
- The concern over Rodgers' calf injury was evident before the game, when the Packers activated three quarterbacks for the first time this season.
- In the Rapid Reaction, see what team record receiver Jordy Nelson set on Sunday.
- The Packers will play their first playoff game on Jan. 11 against the Cowboys, Cardinals or Panthers. The full postseason schedule is here.
- At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde broke down the game in his 3-and-out feature.
- At PackerReport.com, Bill Huber wrote that the Packers needed that first-round bye that came with Sunday's win over the Lions.
- In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Pete Dougherty wrote that it was a risk to put Rodgers back in the game because he could've blown out his calf, which would have ruined the Packers' Super Bowl chances.
- In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bob McGinn wrote about Eddie Lacy becoming the first running back to put up 100 yards on the Lions this season.
After the Seattle Seahawks clinched back-to-back No. 1 seeds with a 20-6 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, the NFC road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle, a football town that has established perhaps the NFL's best home-field advantage.
The New England Patriots were the most recent team to win back-to-back Super Bowls, doing it in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Since then, no Super Bowl champion has even won a playoff game the following season and four of them missed the playoffs altogether.
The Seahawks were the youngest team to ever win a Super Bowl, and now they've earned back-to-back No. 1 seeds. They did it this year with a stifling defense and an offense that recovered from the midseason trade of Percy Harvin.
Despite the loss of 10 key players during the offseason and the Harvin situation, there is some thought that this Seahawks team might be better than the one that beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Here are the 10 biggest questions heading into the NFC playoffs.
1. What team might give the Seahawks the biggest problem? Believe it or not, the Dallas Cowboys
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As Aaron Rodgers limped across the locker room Sunday evening, tape still wrapped around his injured left calf, receiver Randall Cobb stopped him.
He threw his arms around the Green Bay Packers quarterback.
"You're unbelievable, man," Cobb told him. "Unbelievable."
The two remained locked in an embrace.
"Keep doing your thing," Cobb said.
Few among the 78,408 at Lambeau Field thought that would even be possible after they saw Rodgers ride shotgun on a cart to the locker room late in the second quarter of Sunday's 30-20 victory over the Detroit Lions -- a win that gave the Packers (12-4) the NFC North title for the fourth straight year, the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and a much-needed first-round bye.
A week after Rodgers first pulled his left calf muscle, he did it again, only much worse this time. The previous Sunday at Tampa Bay, he didn't miss a single snap. On this Sunday, however, he missed the Packers' final possession of the first half and first one of the second half. During that time, the Packers saw their 14-0 lead evaporate.
Rodgers' calf seized up as he scrambled to his right, yet he still managed to fling a 4-yard touchdown pass to Cobb with 2:24 left in the second quarter. When he needed help to get up after that play, the stadium went silent.
"I didn't know if he could come back from that," right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "It looked pretty bad, like he got shot how he went down on that touchdown pass."
No one saw Rodgers at halftime. He was with team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and the training staff, who applied heat and then tape. Rodgers said he did not take any painkillers.
"I was worried about the severity of the injury and my ability to walk off the field at that point," Rodgers said. "But once I got back in the locker room, I was actually watching the game on TV with some heat on my calf thinking if I could finagle myself to go back in."
With the third quarter already underway, Rodgers waited in the tunnel while backup Matt Flynn handled the first series. When the offense went three-and-out, Rodgers made his way back to the bench as the crowd serenaded him with chants of "MVP, MVP."
"I thought of Willis Reed hobbling on to the court when he came back [to help the New York Knicks win Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals]," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said.
Like a tag-team wrestler tapping his partner out, Rodgers had a message for Flynn.
"I'm sitting on the bench, and he comes over, taps me on the shoulder and says, 'I've got it,'" Flynn said. "And there he goes."
On his first throw after his return, Rodgers fired a laser to Cobb for a 29-yard gain. He then capped that seven-play, 60-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Cobb. Coach Mike McCarthy kept Rodgers in the shotgun and even used some pistol formations to help limit the distance Rodgers had to cover on handoffs.
As usual, Rodgers thrived. He completed 11-of-13 post-injury passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. For the day, he was 17-of-22 for 226 yards with two touchdowns and not a single interception to close his case for the MVP. His final regular-season numbers looked like this: 38 touchdowns, five interceptions, 4,381 yards and a passer rating of 112.2.
"He's, in my opinion, the most valuable player in the National Football League this year," McCarthy said. "I think what he demonstrated tonight in a must-win game against an excellent opponent, I think it's clear what he means to our football team."
It didn't hurt that Eddie Lacy, with 100 yards on 26 carries, became the first running back this season to reach the century mark against the Lions' top-ranked rushing defense.
Imagine what might have been, had Rodgers been unable to return. A loss would have relegated the Packers to a wild-card game on the road, perhaps as early as Saturday, which would have given Rodgers less than a week to recover. Instead, the Packers will enjoy a week off, followed by a home game Jan. 11 against one of three possible opponents (Dallas, Arizona or Carolina).
"It's critical," McCarthy said of the time off. "He'd be on the same time clock he was on coming from Tampa into this game -- or maybe six days. I don't even know when we would have played this week if it went the other way. I think the two weeks is huge for us."
It happened in the fourth quarter of the Packers' 30-20 win over Suh's Detroit Lions on Sunday at Lambeau Field, and it just so happened to be the same leg that Rodgers reinjured in the second quarter.
"I didn't see it live, I didn't see it on the Jumbotron, but from what I'm told, I'm told it was ridiculous," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "There's no place for that. That's where I'm at with it. I don't understand it, frankly."
NFL spokesman Michael Signora said the league will review the play.
Rodgers appeared to try to shove Suh off his leg. Rodgers, who first strained his calf a week earlier against Tampa Bay, missed two series in the game while getting treatment in the locker room and returned with the game tied at 14-14. Rodgers completed 17-of-22 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
"He'll probably say it was an accident, he was getting blocked into him," Rodgers said. "That's what [referee] Walt Anderson said. But we'll see."
Rodgers tried to talk to Suh after the play.
"He was running off the field," Rodgers said. "I was talking to Walt actually. It was my calf and my ankle getting stepped on. So we'll see what happens."
Suh did not speak to reporters after the game, but Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he did not think it was intentional. There was no penalty on the play.
"I get briefed on it," Caldwell said. "Guys look at it and tell me what they saw, what they thought."
Last week, Lions center Dominic Raiola
- Left guard Rob Sims said he spoke with suspended Lions center Dominic Raiola earlier Sunday. He wouldn’t get into what the conversation was about but said Raiola was a bit down. Sims said he was sure Raiola watched the game.Raiola
“He wasn’t doing too well,” Sims said. “Of course he wanted to be here for this one. Of course he did.”
Rookie Travis Swanson replaced Raiola at center.
- Lions coach Jim Caldwell went off on a reporter who asked him why the team didn’t blitz Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers more after he returned to the game with an injured calf that clearly limited the MVP candidate. Caldwell was displeased with the way the question was asked.
“Well, you’re probably getting into some areas where you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Caldwell said. “First of all, because of the fact that we have to look at this guy for what he’s done. If you look at the number of times when he gets blitzed, what happens; if you look at the number of times people play zones against him, what happens; when you start looking at all those things, breaking them down, looking at those things, then you might be qualified to ask me that question.”
- Caldwell had no real update on the status of starting right guard Larry Warford, who left the game in the first half with a knee injury. He was carted off and didn’t return. Caldwell said he was “not sure” when asked if he anticipated having him for the playoffs against Dallas.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 30-20 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
What it means: The Packers are division champs for the fourth straight season and will be the No. 2 seed in the NFC for the postseason. They appeared to get out with quarterback Aaron Rodgers in one piece. Rodgers left the game in the second quarter after he reinjured his left calf but returned in the third quarter after missing two series. The Packers led 14-0 when Rodgers got hurt. When he returned, the game was tied at 14-14.
Stock watch: Rising – Randall Cobb called his performance in the Week 3 loss at Detroit "embarrassing" after he caught just three passes for 29 yards. He has nothing to be ashamed of now. Cobb caught a pair of a touchdown passes, including a 13-yarder from Rodgers after the quarterback returned from his calf injury. Cobb had four catches for 80 yards to finish with a career-high 91 catches. Falling – For the seventh time this season, the Packers had a kick blocked. The Lions blocked a 52-yard field goal attempt by Mason Crosby with 13:36 left in the game. A field goal would've given the Packers a 10-point lead. The Packers had three field goals blocked this season, along with two extra points and two punts.
Hyde and seek: Micah Hyde got the Packers on the board with a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown. It was his second of the season and his third in his two NFL seasons. That tied the Packers' career record for punt-return touchdowns by matching Desmond Howard and Will Blackmon.
Milestone: Jordy Nelson set the Packers’ single-season record for receiving yards and became the first receiver in team history to gain more than 1,500 yards. He finished with 1,519 and broke Robert Brooks' 1995 record of 1,497 yards.
Game ball: Rodgers would have gotten the game ball for this one anyway, given what he did after coming back from his calf injury, but today we're handing it out to the team's MVP for the season. You needed only to hear the Lambeau Field crowd of 78,408 chant "MVP, MVP" for Rodgers when he re-injured his left calf muscle in the second quarter and then when he returned in the third quarter. We'll have to wait more than a month to find out whether Rodgers wins his second NFL MVP award, but he's the reason the Packers went 12-4 this season.
What's next: As NFC North champs and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, the Packers get a first-round bye and then a home game in the divisional round on either Jan. 10 or 11.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback managed to throw a 4-yard touchdown pass after the injury happened, but then was carted to the locker room with 2:24 left in the second quarter. He returned with 7:34 left in the third quarter and the score tied at 14. When Rodgers left the game, the Packers were up 14-0.
Rodgers was rolling to his right when it became apparent he was hurt again. However, he still was able to throw a short pass to Randall Cobb for a touchdown before he went down. Rodgers needed help from the Packers' medical staff to make it to the sideline. While doing so, the crowd at Lambeau Field shouted "MVP, MVP."
Aaron Rodgers' calf injury.
According to a source, the Packers are going into Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions with "a little" concern about the injury their starting quarterback sustained in last week's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On Friday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during his final media availability of the week: "I don't have any concerns today, just based off of the conversation with Aaron and how he's feeling."
However, the Packers still had one more practice Saturday morning to complete their preparations for the NFC North title game against the Lions. Rodgers was listed as probable on Friday's injury report and was a limited participant in practice all week.
Rodgers also took the unusual step of warming up on the field about two hours before the game Sunday. Rodgers does not typically come out that early, but he played catch with backup Matt Flynn.
This is the first time No. 3 quarterback Scott Tolzien has been active for a game this season. He took the place of backup running back DuJuan Harris, who has been the primary kickoff returner this season. However, McCarthy said this week that he's looking for a spark in the return game, which could mean he will use starting receiver Randall Cobb in that role.
Here's the Packers’ inactive list for Sunday:
Eddie Lacy at this time last year, he had that sprained ankle that dogged him off and on for the entire month of December. He even missed the entire second half of the Week 16 game against the Steelers and then failed to reach 100 yards in either the finale against the Bears or the playoff loss to the 49ers. He was clearly worn down. He'll end up playing about the same number of snaps (or possibly even a few more) this season, but he should be in better shape for the playoffs than he was last season, barring a setback on Sunday against the Lions.
Ndamukong Suh on the inside and the Lions' ends on the outside, and they know it based on some of their comments this week. That's not just on the offensive line but the tight ends as well. Richard Rodgers' blocking was atrocious in that game. The Packers believe he's much better now. If the Packers can run the ball against that front, it will open up all kinds of possibilities for Aaron Rodgers.
T.J. Lang back on the field goal protection unit. He had not played there since he sprained his ankle while blocking on an extra point in Week 8. As far as the return game goes, perhaps there was some foreshadowing when receiver Randall Cobb was named a special teams captain last week. Cobb has been a part-time punt returner, but this might be the time we see him on kickoff returns, too. DuJuan Harris hasn't offered anything special on kickoffs, and coach Mike McCarthy said this week, "I think we have a chance to improve here down the stretch. And when you play in the winter months up here, this is when the return game has to factor." Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren used to use players like Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks as kick returners in the playoffs even though they rarely did it during the regular season.
The Lions? They're the same.
What looked like a stout run defense back in Week 3 has proven to be the best in the league. Only one team -- and not a single running back -- has rushed for more than 100 yards against them this season.
And it wasn't the Packers.
Running back Eddie Lacy managed just 36 yards (his second-lowest total of the season) on 11 carries, and the Packers totaled just 76 yards on the ground, which is actually more than the Lions' season average of just 63.8 rushing yards allowed per game -- a figure that puts them on pace for the sixth-best total in NFL history.
So what makes the Packers think they will have any success running the ball against the league's No. 1-ranked rushing defense Sunday at Lambeau Field?
"We didn't have an identity Week 3," Packers left guard Josh Sitton said. "It always seems to take us awhile to get going and figure out who we are. Some teams come out right away and have their identity. It always takes us longer. We know who we are now, and we feel confident."
Coming out of the Lions' game, the Packers ranked 26th in rushing yards and 22nd in yards per carry (3.63). In the 12 games since, the Packers rank eighth in the league in rushing yards, and only two teams have bettered their yards-per-carry average of 4.61 in that stretch.
Then again, they haven't faced a run defense like Detroit's in months.
"Obviously they're good," Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "But we didn't play very well. You go back and watch the film, there wasn't enough finish early on in the year there. We just didn't play well. We just didn't play well enough to beat that team, so we're going to need to up our game quite a bit."
It's easy to put the onus Sunday on the offensive line -- and that group has willingly accepted it this week -- but it runs deeper. The Packers' tight ends bear almost as much responsibility in the run game. Consider what happened in the second quarter of the first meeting against the Lions. With the Packers backed up on their own 1-yard line, they tried to run Lacy off right tackle to get some breathing room. Defensive end Jason Jones overpowered rookie tight end Richard Rodgers, and when right guard T.J. Lang tried to help, it left a gaping hole for linebacker DeAndre Levy to dump Lacy for a safety.
With the likes of Jones, Ndamukong Suh, Ziggy Ansah and Nick Fairley controlling the line of scrimmage, it allowed Levy to run free and pile up 10 tackles.
The impact was this: Because the running game failed, it put the Packers in third-and-long situations that Aaron Rodgers could not convert.
"I think we had 54 plays in the game, that's not going to cut it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We obviously have to be productive in normal [down and distance] to create better third-down situations for ourselves, but I think third down will be a key statistic in the game."