Green Bay – One by one, the Green Bay Packers alumni lined up alphabetically in the tunnel of Lambeau Field.
On a picture perfect fall afternoon, all was well at halftime as the Packers led the Lions, 31-10, and seemed in full control of the NFC North contest.
From Donny Anderson to Frank Winters, the former Packers players from the 1960s to the 2000s walked out on the storied field to the delight of a sell-out crowd of 78,411.
“This is special,” said Jerry Kramer, former Packers guard, who received one of the loudest fan ovations. “It’s great to be back in Green Bay with these great fans. . . and it’s nice to see the Packers offense and Aaron (Rodgers) get back on track.”
For a half anyway. The Packers quarterback threw four touchdowns in the game’s first 30 minutes as the Green Bay offense scored on its first four possessions in bolting out to a 31-3 lead late in the second quarter.
Rodgers, coming off a subpar performances in Minnesota, looked like his league-MVP self. He completed 15 of 24 attempts for 205 yards and a sterling 129.3 quarterback rating.
Rodgers and receiver Jordy Nelson combined for two touchdowns, an 8-yarder in the first quarter and a perfect 17-yarder over a Detroit defender in the corner of the end zone in the second stanza. Nelson did what he does best, stretching the defense with 6 catches for 101 yards (16.8 average) with a long of 49.
Head coach Mike McCarthy was happy with his offense as his team and its banged-up defense limps into a much-need bye week with a 2-1 record.
“It thought they were dialed in,” McCarthy said of his offensive unit. “It was important for us to have a healthy run-and-pass mix. I thought our guys executed at a high level. We had a lot of explosive plays.”
Eddie Lacy added balance to the offense, effectively rushing 17 times for 103 yards (6.1 ave.) with a long of 25 yards.
“We had the balance,” Rodgers said. “The line blocked really well. Jordy and I were connecting, and whenever we’re doing that, it kind of opens other things up on offense.”
While Green Bay dominated for the first 30 minutes, the Lions roared back in the second half as the Packers only had one offensive possession in the third quarter.
Detroit received a big boost just before intermission as quarterback Matthew Stafford connected with Marvin Jones Jr. on a 73-yard play with 32 seconds remaining. Jones beat Damarious Randall on the play, which changed the momentum of the game.
Stafford torched the depleted Packers defense that was missing multiple starters, throwing for 385 yards (28 of 41) and three touchdowns for a 112.3 quarterback rating. Jones had a career day, catching six passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
The Lions closed to within one score with 3:34 left on Jones’ 35-yard touchdown catch, but the Green Bay offense saved its tired defense that reached deep into its bench by running out the clock to preserve the victory.
““We needed our veteran players to step up and we needed our younger players to step up,” McCarthy said. “We had a combination of that today. From that, we’re a much better team right now than we were when we woke up this morning.”
The Packers enter an early bye week, albeit a much-needed one, in second place in the NFC North, behind 3-0 Minnesota. Green Bay is in the middle of a rare four-game home stand, hosing the New York Giants on Sunday, Oct. 9.
While Rodgers is not a “big fan” of the early bye, he knows team health is a priority. “Health is at a premium–we’ve seen it every year,” Rodgers said. “It’s the teams that are hottest, but also healthy, that go on a run at the end of the year.
“I think our team at full strength is going to be really good. We have to get to full strength.”