Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) signals to teammates against the New Orleans Saints on December 4, 2016 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. File photo by AJ Sisco/UPI | License Photo
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, locked into third and last place in the NFC North, had nothing to play for in Sunday's regular-season finale at Lambeau Field. Still, the teams' star quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, knew it was important as team leaders to be on the field.
Stafford was sensational. Playing with a receiving corps that entered the game with a total of 26 receptions on the season, Stafford was 20-of-32 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Kicker Matt Prater added a touchdown pass on a fake field goal as the Lions mauled the Packers 31-0.
"I work my tail off to play games," Stafford said. "I work my tail off to play 16 games. I love playing football. I love being out there with those guys. There were points in that game where, I'm sure, I could've come out and we still would've won the game. But I wanted to play. That's just how I am, and I think I owe it to those guys."
Rodgers didn't last long, knocked out after the third series with a concussion. Rodgers was sacked by linebacker Jarrad Davis, losing his helmet in the process. He played two more series and walked to the locker room just seconds after Prater fired a touchdown pass to tight end Levine Toilolo.
DeShone Kizer played the final three quarters, going 16-of-35 for 132 yards with one interception. Of the team's 46 rushing yards, 40 came on Kizer's scrambles. Green Bay finished with 175 yards -- it took them almost the full three quarters to get to 100.
"It was hard. We just didn't have any rhythm," interim Packers head coach Joe Philbin said. "You've got to look at the offense. I've got to do a better job [of] getting us some first downs, getting us some momentum going. Let's be honest: The first three drives were three-and-out. It's a little bit of the chicken and the egg, right? We just didn't get anything going. That doesn't help create good energy. I'm the head coach and I call the plays and didn't really have a good day on offense whatsoever."
Detroit took a 7-0 lead on Stafford's 5-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Jones late in the first quarter. The Lions extended the lead to 14-0 on Prater's fake field goal. Toilolo stood by the sideline at the snap, completely ignored by the Packers. Prater took the direct snap and lofted him the pass for an easy touchdown.
"I was more concerned with just catching the ball and not throwing it straight into the line or out of bounds," Prater said. "Basically, I was trying not to screw it up. Coaches saw something early in the week and we executed it. Somehow, we hid the 6-foot-8 tall guy on the side. We snapped it perfect, I almost dropped it, threw it up a little too high, but Levine made a good catch. It worked out, so it was fun."
The Lions had all the fun. Jones caught two touchdown passes, Brandon Powell caught six passes for 103 yards and Zach Zenner ran for 93 hard-charging yards. It was a strong performance after seven losses in their previous nine games; they failed to score more than 22 points in any of those games.
"The part of it that's hard to understand, they play for each other," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. "They play for the dedication and the commitment that they all make. I think it was great to see here at the end and those guys sticking with it and really grinding it out for another 60-minute game. Give them all of the credit."
For Green Bay, now starts an offseason of uncertainty. Longtime head coach Mike McCarthy was fired after the loss to Arizona on Dec. 2. Philbin, with two wins in his first three games, seemingly had positioned himself for strong consideration. A humiliating loss to a last-place team, however, won't help his candidacy.
"I've been a member of the organization for 10 years. They know who I am, they know what I believe for, they know where I stand," he said. "I want what's best for the Green Bay Packers anyway. And whatever that may be, I'm good with. I have faith they'll make a great decision as they should, this is an incredible place to work every day. I'm not sure losing 31-nothing helps. But that's football. It is what it is, you can't change that now. But I have a lot of faith in the people here and I'm good with whatever decision comes my way, I'll be ready and go from there."