Lions prep for Vikings

After losing a close game at home to the Buffalo Bills 17-14, the Detroit Lions (3-2)  are preparing to hit the road as they face the 2-3 Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings are coming off a 10-42 blowout at the hands of the Green Bay Packers and are looking to pick up their second home victory of the season.

Plenty of great seats and cheap tickets are still available so be sure to get yours now!

Lions’ Thanksgiving victory in ’62 still a feast to remember


Gregg Krupa/ The Detroit News

Detroit — The Vince Lombardi who arrived in Detroit for the game against the Lions was a man and a coach, not yet the legend.

By November 1962, he had resurrected the Green Bay Packers, a team in decline for two decades. In a few years, Lombardi would embody America’s ideal of a football coach.

Before the legend, though, comes the playing of the games.

As he walked into Tiger Stadium early on that raw, slate-gray Thanksgiving Day with a few snow flurries flying, Lombardi and his powerful Packers were four wins shy of the first perfect season in NFL history. Other than the Lions, the Packers would play only the lowly 49ers and, twice, the hapless Rams.

But, in the Lions locker room, a great menace stirred.

“To this day, I don’t know if I have ever been in a locker room quite like that one,” said Dick LeBeau, a Lions defensive back and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who has coached in the NFL for 39 years, including in six Super Bowls.

“It was a group of men who came together with a singleness of purpose that they were going to win a game that day.”

The Lions have played more games on Thanksgiving than any franchise. Their most frequent opponent is the Packers.

They will face each other Thursday with the best records for both teams in the 20 Thanksgiving games they have played. The Packers are 10-0, and the Lions 7-3. On November 22, 1962, they were 10-0 and 8-2.

Loss primes rematch

Anticipation for that game burst the boundaries of the city.

It was the only game that day, and it drew 30 million viewers. At the time, it was the largest television audience ever for CBS.

“People today forget that big national, TV audiences were still a little bit new, then,” said Joe Schmidt, the eight-time all-Pro middle linebacker and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“It was an opportunity to show people across the United States the kind of football team you were.”

The concept of people in one part of the country showing interest in two teams from another had yet to be tested.

“That game is one of the prime movers in the NFL becoming a national spectator sport,” said LeBeau, defensive coordinator for the Steelers.

“That television audience was one of the first ones that made them think, ‘Hey, people want to watch this!'”

Outside Michigan, few believed the Lions would win.

But the Lions had deep determination, born in a loss to the Packers that season.

Detroit had a 7-6 lead in Green Bay when, inexplicably, with the clock nearly expired, quarterback Milt Plum dropped back to pass.

Plum tossed an interception.

A few plays later, the Packers kicked a field goal to win 9-7.

“A few guys raised Cain with Milt Plum for throwing the ball,” Schmidt said. “It wasn’t Milt Plum.

“The play was called in from the sideline, and the receiver, Terry Barr, slipped. It was a well-thrown ball. If Terry hadn’t slipped, he would have caught the ball.”

Jerry Kramer, the great Packers guard, recalls the scene he heard emerging from the Lions locker room.

“They were throwing garbage cans around the locker room and cursing mightily,” Kramer said.

The game still jabs at Schmidt’s gut, 49 years later.

“Of all the games I played in and all the games I coached, this Green Bay situation remains in my mind,” said Schmidt, who coached Detroit from 1967-72. “As great as the players were that we had that season, it just goes unnoticed, to this day, because we lost that first one to Green Bay.

“To this day, no one knows who we are.”

Lions held the aces

That regret glowed red hot for the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

“We had a vendetta,” said Roger Brown, the first 300-pound lineman in the NFL, who played defensive tackle in both games for the Lions as part of the first “Fearsome Foursome.”

“We gave them a gift up in Green Bay, and we wanted to set the record straight.”

It started unceremoniously for the Lions, who drove to the Packers 17 only to fumble.

The Packers moved the ball, a bit. But, on three consecutive plays, the Lions began what is considered one of the greatest defensive performances in history.

*On second down from the Packers 47, defensive tackle Alex Karras, the four-time all-Pro, broke through Kramer to dump a running back for a three-yard loss.

*On third down, Karras, Schmidt and defensive end Darris McCord broke through and sacked Bart Starr.

*After the play was negated by a delay of game against the Packers, Brown drove through Packers guard Fuzzy Thurston on third down to drop Starr for a 15-yard loss.

Then, the Lions offense went to work with uncharacteristic speed and precision.

“We had a thing all year, Milty and I, where I was doing a lot of simple curls and crossing patterns,” said Gail Cogdill, a Lions wide receiver.

“Well, on Thanksgiving Day, instead of running out a little and turning one way or the other, I just kept going straight. I think we caught them off guard.”

Plum and Cogdill combined for two touchdowns — 33 and 29 yards — in the first half.

“All I can say is that the whole game felt like we were playing cards and you knew we had the best hand,” Cogdill said.

With a 14-0 lead, the Lions kicked off. It hardly mattered.

A play later, Brown broke through Thurston again, forcing Starr to fumble. Defensive end Sam Williams picked up the ball and, as the scorer for the game typed on the score sheet, “waltzed” into the end zone.

The Lions kicked off — and the Packers may have wished they had not.

On the first play, Brown tackled Hall of Fame running back Jim Taylor for a loss.

A play later, Brown, a man both fast and huge, was free in the Packers backfield, chasing Starr.

Brown grabbed him in the end zone for a safety.

“As far as anything extracurricular that we did, I would say the whole darned thing was motivation,” Brown said.

“We had some stunts and some nutty sorts of things, but we were determined to get to Bart Starr.”

‘A little bit of a nightmare’

With a brilliant plan drawn up by the 32-year-old defensive coach Don Shula, who would leave Detroit at the end of the season to become defensive coordinator in Baltimore, the Lions repeatedly were stunting ends, tackles and linebackers.

Officially, the Lions sacked Starr 11 times for 110 yards. It left the Packers with 49 yards passing.

Karras often was called “Tippy Toes” because of his great deception and a habit of running on his toes with short choppy steps. But on one play, available on YouTube, Karras simply bull rushed Kramer, pushing him from about the Packers 10 into the end zone, where he shoved the guard aside with a slip of his left shoulder and flip of his left forearm.

Starr somehow avoided a second safety.

“Along with Merlin Olsen, Karras was the greatest defensive tackle I ever faced,” said Kramer, a five-time all-Pro.

“The Lions absolutely kicked our butts all day long. They played with extreme emotion.”

A photograph, which over the years became a symbol of defensive tenacity in the NFL and still hangs in the Lions offices at Allen Park, shows Starr beginning to fall as he nearly disappears in the arms of four Lions, Williams, strong safety Bruce Maher, Karras and Schmidt.

“Bart has nothing but respect for the Lions and the way they attacked that day,” said Keith Dunnavant, a biographer of Starr, whose book, “America’s Quarterback,” was published in September. “He talks about Alex Karras and Roger Brown and those guys, and it’s the most respect a guy can have.

“But it probably remains a little bit of a nightmare for him. How could it not?”

When Green Bay rushed, it did not go much better. Detroit had five tackles for loss.

“I recall looking down at my jersey in the fourth quarter,” LeBeau said. “Now, remember this was November at Tiger Stadium, and it could be a little mucky out there.

“But I looked down at my jersey and I recall there wasn’t a mark on it. Our front seven played so well that day, I was never on the ground.

“They really didn’t even have to launder the thing.”

The Packers scored twice in the fourth quarter, one on an interception return by Plum.

The Lions won 26-14.

After the game, Lombardi smiled wryly and said, simply, “Well, you didn’t think we were going to win them all, did you?”

Opposing forces

The most common opponent for Detroit on Thanksgiving Day is Green Bay. The teams play their 20th game Thursday (records before the game):

Sources: Elias Sports Bureau, NFL

gregg.krupa@detnews.com

Bob Wojnowski: Big Bad Ben will beat the warm, fuzzy Packers


Bob Wojnowski

The Green Bay Packers are a nice, warm story straight out of the cold. Aaron Rodgers is a freshly minted star, clean-cut and sharp-throwing.

Fans like the Packers. Experts love the Packers to beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. One ESPN survey of national prognosticators had 31 of 45 picking the Packers.

I’m not here to spoil anyone’s Super fun. You’ll probably ruin it anyhow by serving too many vegetables and not enough meatballs at your party. I’m here to tell you the newest American Anti-Hero is about to be Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, like it or not.

Hate Big Bad Ben if you wish. Some of his alleged off-field behavior has been deplorable. I don’t know if he has become a better person, but it doesn’t really matter today. The man is as tough and clutch as any quarterback ever, and the Steelers are the nastiest bunch in football, which is why they’ll beat the Packers.

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This should be a classic because both teams belong, both play great defense and both have tremendous quarterbacks. The Steelers will win 31-24, and that should set up an entertaining dilemma for Disney, which always tapes a post-Super Bowl commercial, asking a star player where he’s going next. To Disney World? Uh, not sure that’d be Roethlisberger’s choice, but if you want your sports stars wrapped in neat, tidy packages, sorry.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the NFL’s shiniest long-time stars. Rodgers, playing in his first Super Bowl, probably is next. But guess what? Roethlisberger’s playoff record (10-2) is better than all of them, better than Brady’s 14-5 and way better than Manning’s 9-10.

As you know, the Lions have steadfastly declined to participate in Super Bowls, and the popular theory is, it’s because they’ve never had the quarterback. We don’t know if they have him now, with Matthew Stafford’s shoulder woes. But it’s not that simple. You must have the defense too, and Pittsburgh and Green Bay have the league’s best.

The AFC has been dominated for years by Roethlisberger, Brady and Manning. But you know how many different NFC quarterbacks have reached the Super Bowl the past eight years? Eight. The Lions certainly aren’t ready for that yet, but eventually, it’ll be there for the taking, and it doesn’t just take a great quarterback.

When the Steelers beat the Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL at Ford Field, Roethlisberger was mostly miserable — 9-for-21 for 123 yards and two interceptions. That was five years ago, and even though he was outstanding beating the Cardinals two years ago, it’s as if Super Bowl XL somehow tainted him.

If the Steelers prevail now, Roethlisberger, 28, officially would rank among the all-time elite, only the fifth quarterback to win three Super Bowls, joining Joe Montana (four), Terry Bradshaw (four), Troy Aikman (three) and Brady (three).

At 6-foot-5, 241 pounds, Roethlisberger sometimes is unorthodox, sometimes inaccurate. But he makes clutch plays and shakes off tacklers better than anyone, and he’ll need to. This won’t be easy, with standout rookie center Maurkice Pouncey sidelined, further weakening Pittsburgh’s offensive line. The blitz-happy Packers, led by Clay Matthews, had 47 sacks in the regular season, second only to — naturally — the Steelers’ 48.

The Steelers’ defense is slightly better, and more punishing. Linebacker James Harrison, who rang up $100,000 in fines this season, spent part of the week mocking commissioner Roger Goodell for cracking down on brutal hits. Harrison’s classic: “I just want to tackle them softly on the ground, and if ya’ll can, lay a pillow down where I tackle them so they don’t hit the ground too hard. OK, Mr. Goodell?”

Niiiice. And nasty.

The Steelers’ ground game, with underrated Rashard Mendenhall, is better. Green Bay won’t be able to run on Pittsburgh, and one dimension just isn’t enough.

That’s my dime-store analysis, and I’m sorry if it’s not as in-depth as the biggest story this week out of Dallas: “Roethlisberger took teammates to a piano bar Tuesday night, warbled a Billy Joel song and ran up a $1,000 tab! Oh no!”

Oh who cares? It’d only truly be a story if Roethlisberger belted out a Josh Groban tune.

Actually, it’d only be a story if Roethlisberger displayed more ugly behavior. He has been accused of sexual assault twice in two years, and although he wasn’t convicted of anything, he was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

No one’s brushing aside disgusting behavior. But just as Michael Vick is entitled to rebuild his image, so is Roethlisberger. He tried mightily during Super Bowl week, answering critical questions with charm and humor.

People shouldn’t be fooled by that, either. Perceptions rightly are forged on the field, and Roethlisberger is one of the toughest, grimiest ever to play quarterback. That’s who he is, who the Steelers are, who they’ve always been. A vivid, vicious reminder is due.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

Aaron Rodgers leads Packers in bombardment of Falcons


Packers 48, Falcons 21

Paul Newberry / Associated Press

Atlanta — As Aaron Rodgers trotted off the field, savoring another playoff win, he was serenaded with chants of “Go, Pack, Go!”

This wasn’t Lambeau Field, but it sure sounded like it.

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Looking very much at home, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, ran for another score and led the Green Bay Packers to their second straight postseason road victory with a stunning 48-21 rout of the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night.

“This just feels so good right now,” said Rodgers, who threw for 366 yards and led Green Bay to the highest-scoring playoff game in its storied history.

The Packers (12-6) will have to win one more on the road to complete their improbable run from sixth seed to the Super Bowl, but nothing looks out of the question the way Rodgers is playing. He’ll lead Green Bay into the NFC championship game at Chicago or Seattle next weekend.

“This probably was my best performance — the stage we were on, the importance of this game,” Rodgers said. “It was a good night.”

He completed 31 of 36 passes and put up more yards than Brett Favre — the guy he replaced in Green Bay — ever threw for in a playoff game. After knocking off Michael Vick and the Eagles in Philadelphia, then dominating Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Atlanta, Rodgers is creating his own legacy in Titletown USA.

Brett who?

Green Bay scored 35 consecutive points, including Tramon Williams’ 70-yard interception return on the final play of the first half that left the Falcons (13-4) and a crowd of more than 69,000 in a state of shock as the teams headed to the locker room.

The Packers could’ve left punter Tim Masthay at home. He was never needed.

“I felt like I was in the zone,” Rodgers said.

Ryan, who beat out Rodgers for a spot in the Pro Bowl, had a miserable night. He also was picked off in the end zone, costing Atlanta another scoring chance early on that might’ve changed the complexion of the game, and lost a fumble attempting a simple sneak. In two career playoff games, Matty Ice is 0-2 with six turnovers and a safety.

“Anytime you’re in the playoffs, you have an opportunity to win it all,” Ryan said. “When that doesn’t happen, it’s frustrating.”

The Falcons went into the playoffs as the NFC’s top-seeded team for only the second time in franchise history. The result was the same as it was during the 1980 season: one and done.

In the locker room afterward, coach Mike Smith tried to make sense of it for his players.

“We will learn from it. That’s the important thing,” he said. “I also told ’em, as bad as they feel right now, remember the whole body of work we put out there this year. We can’t forget that either.”

This game was pretty much over when Rodgers guided the Packers on an 80-yard drive to open the second half, running the last 7 yards for the TD that made it 35-14.

When Rodgers drove the Packers on yet another scoring drive, capped off with a 7-yard pass to John Kuhn late in the third quarter, thousands of red-clad fans headed for the exits, not even bothering to hang around for the final period of a magical season than turned into a green nightmare in the playoffs.

The Falcons simply couldn’t stop Rodgers, who carved up the Atlanta defense on four drives of at least 80 yards.

Time after time, Rodgers ducked a shoulder or pulled off a nifty spin move to get away from a rusher, leaving him grasping at air. Inevitably, he found the open man in what became an increasingly tortured night for the Falcons.

“I had eyes in the back of my head,” Rodgers quipped.

Atlanta’s only defensive stop came on Green Bay’s opening possession, when Stephen Nicholas chased down Greg Jennings from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by Brett Grimes.

The Falcons quickly drove for the opening score, a 12-yard run by Michael Turner. Unfortunately for the home team, it had to give the ball back to Rodgers. And, as everyone soon discovered, there was no stopping No. 12. A 13-play, 81-yard drive evened the score, Rodgers finishing it off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson.

The Falcons’ last gasp, as it turned out, was Eric Weems’ 102-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, the longest scoring play in NFL playoff history.

Rodgers went right back to work, even after the Packers bobbled the next kickoff out of bounds at the 8-yard line. With nearly the entire field in front of him, he guided the Packers 92 yards in 10 plays for Kuhn’s 1-yard plunge that made it 14-all.

Ryan was the first to crack in this quarterback duel. He had the Falcons in scoring position again, but Michael Jenkins slipped on a pass in the end zone, allowing Williams to make an easy interception.

Back to Rodgers, who needed only seven plays to torch the Falcons on an 80-yard drive. The touchdown was a perfectly thrown pass to James Jones along the side of the end zone, allowing the receiver to leap over shorter cornerback Brent Grimes for a 20-yard score with 48 seconds left in the first half.

The Packers had their first lead, 21-14, but it was still a game.

Not for long.

Atlanta hustled into position to try a field goal before halftime, thanks to a pair of pass interference penalties. But Ryan was sacked by Clay Matthews with 10 seconds to go, forcing the Falcons to call their final timeout.

Instead of sending out Matt Bryant to attempt a 53-yard kick, coach Mike Smith wanted to get it a little closer. Bad move. The Packers knew Ryan had to throw it near the sideline to stop the clock, and Williams read the play perfectly.

The cornerback, who sealed the win over the Eagles by intercepting Vick in the end zone, stepped in front of a quick out pass intended for Roddy White and was gone on a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown on the final play of the half.

“I recognized the formation,” Williams said. “I knew they were trying to get into position for a field goal.”

The second half was one long victory lap for the Packers, whose hefty contingent of fans was able to move down right near the edge of the emptying Georgia Dome and cheer on their team.

For the Falcons, nothing but misery.

A long pass completion was overturned with a replay. Ryan fumbled a snap while attempting a sneak on third-and-short. Jenkins lost the ball after a catch, Atlanta’s fourth turnover of the night. Tony Gonzalez hobbled off with a sprained ankle.