The San Francisco 49ers' loss Thursday night gave the Packers some breathing room in their race to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC portion of the playoffs. There is now a two-game difference between the teams with five games remaining, which tells us the Packers are closer to clinching but that it won't happen in Week 13. (Unless there is an insurmountable tiebreaker the Packers have already achieved that I'm not aware of.) The Packers won three playoff games on the road last season on the way to Super Bowl XLV, but I'm guessing there are few opponents who would like to travel to Lambeau Field in January. As quarterback Aaron Rodgers noted Thursday, the Packers haven't had a home playoff game since the 2007 NFC Championship Game. It seems to be a matter of time before that changes.
Contrary to what some NFC North blog readers believe, I am aware that Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was not the only player ejected from Sunday's game. I just didn't think the events surrounding special-teams player Pat Lee's dismissal warranted anything close to the coverage of Suh's departure. Lee was ejected after officials caught him retaliating with an open-fist punch/slap during a give-and-take with two Lions players in the first half. In the locker room, Lee said: "I released inside and one pulled me from the back and started holding me and from then I was fighting off. The whistle blew and I was still fighting off, and the ref didn’t do anything. He was just sitting there watching, and I just pushed off at the end, when I finally got loose, that’s when he threw the flag." The most interesting part of the episode is that neither Lee nor anyone on the Packers realized he has been ejected. Lee, in fact, lined up on the Packers' kickoff return team to open the second half before Lions coach Jim Schwartz called his presence to the attention of referee Terry McAulay.
The Packers defense had another good day against Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who was targeted on eight passes but caught only four for 49 yards and a late touchdown. That means in their past four games against them, Johnson has caught a modest 13 passes for 179 yards. He has scored four touchdowns against them, but I think most teams would take that type of production against Johnson over a four-game span. Typically the Packers have matched up cornerback Charles Woodson against Johnson, but as Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out, this time it was Tramon Williams' turn. Williams made a great play to scuttle a potential touchdown in the first half, and his impact would have been more noticeable to the casual fan had he caught one or both of the interceptions he dropped. The latter almost certainly would have gone for a touchdown.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
The Packers obviously kept their poise in a game full of shenanigans, most of which were generated by the Lions. I think it's especially notable, and not totally explainable, that they did so with four significant players sidelined during different portions of the game. The Packers had backups playing at right guard (Evan Dietrich-Smith) and both inside linebacker positions (D.J. Smith and Robert Francois), in addition to replacing Lee on special teams. Dietrich-Smith proved to be the calm and collected participant in the episode that led to Suh's ejection, and overall the performance of their backups was a credit to the Packers' program. You would think at least one of those inside linebackers will be in the lineup Dec. 4 against the New York Giants. Starter Desmond Bishop (calf) was on crutches after the game.