GREEN BAY — As monumentally hideous as the season opener was for the Green Bay Packers, there was one piece of good news to grasp onto as they were licking their wounds:
At least they hadn’t lost any ground in the NFC North.
The Packers have dominated the division for most of the past decade and won it in each of coach Matt LaFleur’s first two seasons with the team, going 11-1 against their closest rivals during that span.
Make it 12-1 after a 35-17 victory over the Detroit Lions on Monday night at Lambeau Field.
“We always emphasize the division,” LaFleur said last week. “I think that’s always the starting point is your division. I mean those games almost count as two because while you’re getting one leg up, somebody’s going backwards.”
It was the Packers taking a much-needed step forward in their home opener a week after a 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Jacksonville, Florida.
That defeat set off a chain reaction of what quarterback Aaron Rodgers felt were overreactions by media and fans to one game.
“It’s nice to come out and have a good performance,” Rodgers said, “and get the trolls off our back.”
Rodgers looked like the 2020 version of himself, the one who threw 48 touchdowns and only five interceptions en route to winning his third Most Valuable Player trophy. He was 22 of 27 for 255 yards and four touchdowns against the Lions, a sparkling 145.6 passer rating.
Two of his throws early in the third quarter were vintage Rodgers. The first resulted in a 50-yard connection with Davante Adams down the sideline. The second, three plays later, was a 22-yard dart to tight end Robert Tonyan for the go-ahead touchdown.
After giving up on the run too early last week, LaFleur made sure to get the ball in Aaron Jones’ hands early and often. The Packers also took advantage of some favorable matchups with Jones being covered by linebackers — that’s going to happen a lot because of how much attention defenses have to pay to Adams – and the speedy running back scored three of his four touchdowns against Detroit on passes.
“I think we came out and we did a great job of coming out and responding,” Jones said. “We played well, we played at a high level.”
Well, at least one side of the ball did.
It was still troubling that the Packers found themselves trailing 17-14 at halftime to the lowly Lions, mainly because Joe Barry’s defense was as ineffective in the opening 30 minutes as it was last week against New Orleans.
Miscommunication was an issue once again. So was Kevin King’s inability to stay with his man in coverage, the veteran cornerback moving one step closer to losing his starting job to rookie first-round pick Eric Stokes.
The defense was much better in the second half, in part because LaFleur instructed Barry at halftime to call more blitzes after the Packers’ front four didn’t apply much of any pressure to Lions quarterback Jared Goff in the first two quarters.
Barry’s defense forced two turnovers in the second half — one was gift-wrapped — and, more importantly, kept Detroit off the scoreboard.
“We came out there, played together, flew around, made a lot of plays, was bringing a lot of excitement,” Packers linebacker Krys Barnes said. “The fans brought a lot of excitement for us. That second half definitely was a great half for us.”
So much about this victory was predictable:
Rodgers has a track record of bouncing back from poor performances and answered last week’s mess with a masterpiece.
LaFleur hasn’t lost two games in a row and kept that streak alive while improving to 5-0 against the Lions.
And Jones was a focal part of the game plan after essentially being ignored in the opener.
“It feels great just to get that ugly taste out of our mouth,” Jones said. “We had to wait an extra day to get that taste out of our mouth. I wish we could have played on Thursday night.”
In the end, it was a win over a divisional opponent and those never should be discounted. Even with their stinker in the opener, the Packers are the team to beat in the NFC North. As for their prospects beyond that, the crystal ball remains cloudy.