DETROIT — Aaron Rodgers took the shotgun snap on an untimed down with no time left, shuffled to his left, slipped a sack, rolled right and heaved a pass that seemed as high as it was long.
Richard Rodgers, drifting toward the end zone while teammates and opponents crowded behind him, leaped and made the catch on the 61-yard play to give the Green Bay Packers a stunning 27-23 victory over the Detroit Lions on Thursday night.
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“I knew I was going to have to buy some time to allow them to get into the end zone,” Aaron Rodgers said. “I knew once I got outside the right that I was going to be able to set up and throw.”
The Packers got the untimed down after Detroit defensive end Devin Taylor was called for grabbing Aaron Rodgers’ facemask on a tackle on what would’ve been the last play.
The Packers (8-4) had lost four of five.
“Unfortunately, this counts as one win,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It feels like more.”
The Lions (4-8) had won three straight and blew a chance to sweep the season series for the first time since 1991.
“Tough one to lose,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “Those are the ones that eat at you. The guys are upset because they gave so much, but we needed one more play. It is never over in this league.”
Matthew Stafford connected with Calvin Johnson on his second touchdown pass of the first quarter to help Detroit build a 20-point lead that it couldn’t keep.
“Not an easy pill to swallow,” Stafford said.
Aaron Rodgers scored on a 17-yard run with 3:04 left, pulling the Packers within two points.
Stafford connected with TJ Jones to convert a third-and-12 from the Detroit 18 after Green Bay called its final timeout with 2:54 to go. The Lions needed one more first down to seal the victory, but Green Bay forced them to punt and got the ball back on the 21 with 23 seconds left.
Following two incompletions, including one in which Detroit appeared to get away with pass interference, Aaron Rodgers threw a pass to James Jones and the ball was lateraled twice, leaving the quarterback with the ball and no one behind him to pitch to keep the play alive.
But Taylor grabbed Aaron Rodgers’ facemask, giving the Packers another play.
“I wasn’t able to get away from those guys, but luckily my facemask was grabbed,” the QB said.
Richard Rodgers Sr. had to be proud of his son’s winning catch on the all-University of California connection. The elder Rodgers threw two laterals on the final play of the Cal-Stanford in 1982, when the game ended with the Cardinal band on the field and the Bears winning 25-20 in 1982.
Aaron Rodgers scrambled long enough to give his receivers time to sprint to the end zone and got to the outside. He planted his foot at about the Green Bay 36 and got it into the end zone, where his tight end found a way to get to it in front of a slew of players from both teams and leaped for the catch.
“I’ve never had a completed Hail Mary before,” Aaron Rodgers said.
He has now much to Caldwell’s chagrin.
“We weren’t in a position to get our hands on it,” Caldwell lamented.
Aaron Rodgers finished 24 of 36 for 289 yards with two touchdowns.
Stafford was 23 of 35 for 220 yards and two scores.
Detroit went ahead 17-0 after its first three drives and capped the opening possession of the third quarter with a field goal to go ahead 20-0.
It wasn’t a big enough cushion.