GREEN BAY, Wis. — No matter what happened Monday night, Matt LaFleur was not going to abandon the Green Bay Packers' running game.
The third-year head coach left last week’s opener feeling he never gave the Packers' running game a chance in a blowout loss to New Orleans. LaFleur, the offense’s play-caller, had ample opportunity to abandon the run game Monday against the Detroit Lions. The Packers trailed by a touchdown before the offense ever took the field, thanks to continually shoddy defense from new coordinator Joe Barry’s group.
But LaFleur was not going to make the same mistake twice.
The Packers ran the football three straight times to open the game Monday night. They ran on eight of their first 11 plays en route to their first touchdown drive of the season. In all, the Packers finished with 31 carries carries for 96 yards in their 35-17 win against the Lions, rediscovering the bedrock for how they built the NFL’s highest-scoring offense in 2020.
It was a stark contrast to their opener against the Saints, when the Packers rushed only 15 times for 43 yards.
Once the Packers reestablished their run game, their pass game followed. Aaron Rodgers, who has responded to stinkers with big games throughout his career, did so again against the Lions. The NFL’s reigning MVP completed 22-of-27 passes for 255 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 145.6 rating.
That was 108.8 rating points higher than Rodgers had against the Saints, when he completed just 15-of-28 passes for 133 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. His 36.8 rating against the Saints was the fourth lowest of his career.
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“I think that there’s, even more now than when I started playing, there’s so many overreactions that happen on a week-to-week basis,” Rodgers said. “So it’s nice to come out and have a good performance and get the trolls off our back for at least a week.”
Three of Rodgers’ touchdowns passes Monday were to running back Aaron Jones. The Packers were intent to establish Jones on Monday night after the star was held to 22 yards on seven touches against the Saints. Each of their first three snaps Monday night resulted in handoffs to Jones.
Jones also caught six passes for 48 yards against the Lions, half of them for touchdowns. He became the first Packers running back to catch three touchdowns in a game since Andy Uram, who did so against the Chicago Cardinals in 1942. Jones added 67 yards on 17 carries, including a 1-yard plunge into the end zone for his fourth score.
That touchdown put the Packers in command, up 35-17 early in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Jones said he lost a necklace he wears – a little black football containing some of the ashes of his late father – while celebrating one of his touchdowns.
“I think the (Lambeau Field) grounds crew is about to go out there and look (for it) right now,” Jones said. “But if there was any place to lose it, that’s where my dad would’ve wanted me to lose it, so I know he’s smiling.”
Jones’ father, Alvin Jones Sr., died on April 8.
“My dad’s always taught me as a man, it’s how you respond to adversity, how you respond is what makes a man really,” Jones said. “I think we came out and did a great job of responding. We played well. We played at a high level.”
As the Packers' run game got rolling, their passing game began slicing off chunk plays. Receiver Davante Adams caught eight passes for 121 yards, including a 50-yard reception down the right sideline on third-and-12.
“Sometimes, it just takes one play,” Rodgers said. “I think the throw over the top to Davante kind of got us going.”
The long reception set up a 22-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to tight end Robert Tonyan, who knows a thing about catching touchdowns from Rodgers on Monday Night Football.
A year ago, Tonyan had three touchdown catches against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. Tonyan had three catches for 52 yards against the Lions, while also drawing a 25-yard defensive pass interference penalty.
The Packers’ run game had a dual benefit. Not only did it ignite their offense, but it also kept the Packers’ beleaguered defense off the field.
Even though the Packers only allowed 17 points – none after halftime – it was another roller-coaster night for Barry’s defense. The Lions got off to a hot start, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal in their first four possessions before the Packers' defense got its footing.
There were more miscues in the secondary, including a wide-open touchdown pass from Lions quarterback Jared Goff when nobody covered Quintez Cephus in the left corner of the end zone. The score, which put the Packers behind 7-0 early, came after Cephus caught a 46-yard pass against cornerback Kevin King on third-and-1.
The Packers gave first-round rookie Eric Stokes a larger sample of snaps Monday night, in part because King was occasionally moved inside to the slot. How they configure their secondary will be a talking point entering a Week 3 road trip to San Francisco.
Ahead of a short week, the Packers at least got back on the right track Monday night. Considering the debacle a week earlier, it was a move in the right direction
The Packers improved to 1-1 while the Lions fell to 0-2.
Contributing: Associated Press