Packers, Lions thinned by injuries in fight for division lead


Fighting for first place in the NFC North, the Packers and Lions renew acquaintances in Green Bay on Thursday night with Detroit determined to beat its rival for the fourth consecutive time.

“Certainly you want these more, because they’re for the division,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “These count. They have a significant impact on being a division winner.”

The Packers last beat the Lions in Week 2 of the 2021 season. Detroit ushered in the Jordan Love era by beating Aaron Rodgers in the regular-season finale at Lambeau Field last season (20-16).

“I know what they’re all about,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “It’s a tough, gritty team.”

Campbell started the week with a sleepover in his own office Sunday night, burying the idea of enjoying the win over the Atlanta Falcons for 24 hours. But he gets goosebumps thinking about the atmosphere that awaits the Lions, whose season-ending win in January also was in primetime.

“I told the rookies yesterday, ‘Get ready to live, man. This is good stuff here. These are the things that you’ll never forget when you’re done playing,’” Campbell said.

Love rallied the Packers from a 17-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to beat the New Orleans Saints, 18-17, in his first home start last week.

Short-week scenarios involving health are again relevant on either side.

Lions left tackle Taylor Decker plans to attempt to play Thursday with a high-ankle sprain that kept him out the past two games. He was one of four offensive linemen on the injury report Monday.

If Decker holds up, right tackle Penei Sewell can return to his usual position.

Even if the front five isn’t whole, Campbell expects pass protection in front of Jared Goff to be better and the running game to make progress. After rushing for 2,179 yards last season, Detroit is averaging a full yard less per carry — 3.6 yards and 24th in the NFL — through three games in 2023.

Green Bay’s ground game is down as well (3.43 yards per carry ranks 26th), denting the Packers’ play-action passing attack. Injuries to the line and starting running backs David Montgomery (Lions) and Aaron Jones (Packers) created shuffling and a negative domino effect.

Jones and purported No. 1 receiver Christian Watson (hamstring) are trending toward playing this week. Watson hasn’t played this season after collecting seven TDs as a rookie. He caught five passes for 104 yards in the Week 18 loss to the Lions last season. Jones had 21 total carries for 73 yards in two losses to the Lions in 2022.

“We’ve got a lot of ball in front of us and obviously we’ve got a great test in front of us. It would certainly help us if those two guys were available,” LaFleur said.

There is less optimism about starting left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and left guard Elgton Jenkins (knee). Jenkins was injured Sept. 17 at Atlanta. Bakhtiari hasn’t played since Week 1 and right tackle David Tom (knee) couldn’t finish the game last week.

Behind a makeshift line the past two weeks, Goff is consistently connecting with rookie Sam LaPorta, including a 45-yard touchdown in Week 3. LaPorta has 18 receptions in his first three games, an NFL record for a tight end. He’s second on the team to Amon-Ra St. Brown (21-275-1) in catches.

Sewell and Goff are on high alert for outside linebacker Rashan Gary, who was awarded the defensive game ball last week in his third game back from a torn ACL. Gary had 3.0 sacks to boost Green Bay’s comeback win. He had five pressures in 20 pass-rush opportunities.

“The postgame, you could see how much it means to that kid,” Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “You talk about all-in.”

–Field Level Media

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