GREEN BAY, Wis. — Donald Driver made his mark in franchise history, and rookie linebacker Clay Matthews III had a breakout performance to help the defense post a shutout.
Still, the Green Bay Packers know what worked in Sunday’s 26-0 victory over a Detroit Lions team playing its third-string quarterback won’t necessarily get them where they want to be at the end of the season.
Green Bay’s offensive line gave up five more sacks in yet another shaky performance, left tackle Chad Clifton hurt his ankle again and the Packers (3-2) left plenty of points on the field in the red zone.
“When you’re playing a team that maybe has a little more experienced offense, we’re going to have to cash in those opportunities for seven, not three,” Aaron Rodgers said. “Because those are big momentum swings in a game.”
Despite getting knocked around again, Rodgers threw for 358 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He found Driver in the first quarter, making him the franchise’s career receptions leader.
It was the 596th career catch for Driver, passing Sterling Sharpe’s mark.
“It couldn’t it come in a better place — at home in front of the fans I’ve played in front of for so many years,” Driver said, holding the record-setting ball in the locker room. “It feels good. Now I just have to wait on Sterling to call me and congratulate me.”
Matthews had two sacks as the Packers turned in a commanding defensive effort against an undermanned Lions offense.
Detroit (1-5) was without rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson because of injuries — and it showed, as the Lions managed only 79 yards of total offense in the first half and 149 for the game.
Backup quarterback Daunte Culpepper hurt his hamstring in the third quarter and was replaced by third-stringer Drew Stanton.
“It’s very disappointing, very frustrating,” Culpepper said. “It’s embarrassing to me not to be able to move it on the field and get points on the board. We’ve got to figure out a way to do that, simple as that.”
The Lions came into this season with a new coach and a new attitude, but so far have only one win to show for it going into a bye week. Detroit also has lost 19 straight games in the state of Wisconsin — including last year’s painful loss at Lambeau Field that sealed their 0-16 season.
“You can’t sugarcoat it,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “You’ll have a hard time finding the silver lining in this one.”
Sunday was a wild romp for a Packers defense that has struggled at times with the transition to Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense this season.
Green Bay had five sacks and interceptions by defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby, who returned to the field after missing three games with a knee injury.
“Guys were ready to play today,” safety Nick Collins said. “We just had fun and flew to the ball all over the place. That was a lot of fun out there.”
But the Lions’ loss wasn’t nearly as lopsided as it could have been, thanks in large part to continued breakdowns and penalties by the Packers’ offensive line.
Rodgers put two quick touchdowns on the board, the first a 47-yarder to James Jones and the second 1-yard pass to fullback John Kuhn. But the offense fell into a lull after that, at one point settling for four straight field goals on drives inside the Detroit 30-yard line.
“It feels like a 50 to zero game, but we didn’t quite get there,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I felt we should’ve put more points on the board.”
Things got even worse in the third quarter for the Lions, when Culpepper hurt his hamstring on a scramble and Stanton took over.
Stanton’s second series resulted in an interception by Harris off a deflection and the Packers’ offense appeared to get back on track when Driver made a one-handed catch on a deep pass by Rodgers. The Packers drove to the Lions 3, but Rodgers was sacked and fumbled on first-and-goal to scuttle yet another chance at a touchdown.
Even worse, Clifton came up limping after the play and left the game. Packers coach Mike McCarthy confirmed that Clifton re-injured the ankle that kept him out of the previous two games, but a timeline for his return remains unclear.
NOTES: It was the Packers’ first shutout since a November 2007 home game against Minnesota. … Driver has caught a pass in each of his last 116 games, also a Packers’ franchise mark. … Packers WR Jordy Nelson bruised his knee in the first quarter and did not return, but McCarthy said X-rays were negative. … Lions LB Julian Peterson had 2½ sacks. … Mason Crosby’s four field goals tied a career high.