Aaron Rodgers was right.
The Green Bay Packers ran the table, just as their star quarterback said they could, by capping a six-game winning streak with an NFC North-clinching 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night.
“This wasn’t just a shot in the dark,” said Rodgers, who threw three of his four touchdown passes in the second half. “It was an optimistic belief in my teammates.”
The Packers (10-6) were undefeated after losing four straight games midway through the season, when Rodgers shared his bold thoughts, to win the division for the fifth time in six years. Like his team, Rodgers has been perfect during the streak with 15 TD passes and no interceptions. He will lead fourth-seeded Green Bay at home Sunday against the fifth-seeded New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game in its eighth straight postseason appearance.
“We have bigger aspirations,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “This is the first step.”
Detroit (9-7) dropped its last three games after it had a two-game lead in the NFC North, spoiling its shot at winning a division title for the first time since 1993.
The Lions, though, will be in the playoffs for the second time in three years with coach Jim Caldwell because the Giants beat the Washington Redskins earlier in the day. The sixth-seeded Lions will play at third-seeded Seattle on Saturday night in a wild-card game.
“If you’re in, you’ve got a chance,” Caldwell said.
Rodgers , who was 27 of 39 for 300 yards, threw a go-ahead, 3-yard TD pass to Davante Adams with 9:23 left in the third quarter. Rodgers connected with Geronimo Allison and Adams in the end zone in the fourth quarter to give Green Bay a 14-point lead in a game it trailed 14-7 at halftime.
The Lions had a slim shot to comeback from a fourth-quarter deficit to win, as they did eight times this season, when Matthew Stafford connected with Anquan Boldin for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left. The Packers dashed Detroit’s hopes by recovering the onside kick and Rodgers had only to kneel once to seal the victory.
Stafford put Detroit ahead by a touchdown with a 3-yard pass to Golden Tate with 23 seconds left in the second quarter after Zach Zenner tied it with a 1-yard run.
Stafford was 26 of 41 for 347 yards with two TDs and an interception. He made some fantastic passes and some he sailed over wide-open receivers.
Rodgers ran for 42 yards, his third-highest total of the season, on 10 carries. By design, he converted a third-and-1 from the Green Bay 34 with a 13-yard run a bootleg. Rodgers also used his feet to escape sacks and to give his receivers time to get open.Stafford failed to connect with Tate when he was all by himself midway through the first quarter, wasting a chance to make a big play to possibly score on Detroit’s second drive.
“That one was close to being really good,” Stafford said. “You’re going to hit some, you’re going to miss some.”
Early in the scoreless second period, Detroit’s Matt Prater missed a 39-yard field goal. Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews also missed an opportunity, dropping one of Stafford’s passes that he could’ve possibly returned for a score.
Up next, Green Bay will play the Giants at Lambeau Field, where it beat them 23-16 in Week 5. Detroit, which has won only one playoff game since winning the 1957 NFL title, will face long odds to advance on the road against the Seahawks.