Gimpy Aaron Rodgers stomps on Lions, then Ndamukong Suh stomps on QB
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers lies on the ground after an injury in the second quarter against the Lions at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc., on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. (Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports)
Even hobbled by a painful calf injury, Aaron Rodgers proved again on Sunday he’s better than any other quarterback in football.
That makes the Green Bay Packers as dangerous as any team entering the NFL playoffs, which begin on Saturday.
The league’s 95th regular season concluded Sunday with the final two playoff vacancies filled -- by the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC, and the Carolina Panthers in the NFC.
The six-team AFC and NFC playoff fields were set after the evening Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game.
In the AFC, New England and Denver have first-round byes this coming weekend; in the NFC, Seattle and Green Bay do.
The Packers (12-4) get a week’s rest for having thumped the Detroit Lions 30-20, to clinch the NFC North.
In throwing the touchdown pass that put his Packers up 14-0 on the Lions late in the first half, Rodgers aggravated a left calf injury he suffered earlier this month. He slowly walked off the field, then was carted to the Packers locker room.
He looked done.
Rodgers missed the rest of the second quarter and half of the third.
But then Rodgers suddenly exited the tunnel and walked back onto the field to immense cheering at Lambeau Field. The Lions had tied it up, 14-14.
Then it started snowing. And you know the rest.
Rodgers heroically returned to action, fired a bullet to Randall Cobb for 29 yards on his first pass, and on his second pass hit Cobb again for a 13-yard touchdown.
With 8:45 left in the game, Rodgers squirted through the goal-line piles to score himself from one yard out to effectively put the game out of reach, 28-14.
As for the Lions, this goes down as yet another wildly inconsistent performance from quarterback Matt Stafford, who threw more incompletions (21) than completions (20). FOX commentator Troy Aikman said with this loss, Stafford’s career record in road games against teams with winning records fell to 0-16.
We’ve said this before, we’ll say it again: Stafford’s delivery is wildly inconsistent, and his performances are wildly inconsistent, often from drive to drive. The two are linked.
TEAM STOMP: That would be the Lions, who added yet another chapter of infamy in that regard. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Original Stomper in that game against Green Bay three years ago, was at it again late in this one.
With Rodgers down after getting hit, Suh backed up while looking downfield. One foot landed on the ankle of Rodgers’ sore left leg. Suh continued to back up as his other foot landed on Rodgers’ calf/ankle area.
Suh just stood there, not moving, his eyes still fixed downfield -- pretending he didn’t realize an ankle lay beneath his foot. Yeah, right.
Incensed and grimacing, Rodgers had to shove Suh off his ankle, screaming at him.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy afterward called Suh’s actions “ridiculous,” adding “there’s no place for that.”
The NFL suspended Suh for two games after the Original Stomp. His teammate Dominic Raiola, a centre, didn’t play in this one for stomping on a Bear’s leg last week.
Suh might have just played his last game of the season, no matter how far the Lions might advance in the playoffs.
ATLANTA BURNS: In the ‘showdown’ of losing teams playing for the NFC South title and home playoff game, the Carolina Panthers destroyed the host Atlanta Falcons, 34-3.
Carolina finished 7-8-1 to become only the second team to win an NFL division with a losing record in a non-strike year.
The Panthers had to win their last four games to do it. They entered December having gone 0-6-1 since Oct. 12. But, remarkably, at 3-8-1 they weren’t out of it in the awful NFC South.
On Sunday, the Panthers won with a running game (Cam Newton threw only 16 passes) and defence, which more than anything is responsible for the team’s turnaround. Carolina has allowed just 10, 17, 13 and 3 points in the last four games.
Two pick-sixes of Falcons QB Matt Ryan proved more than enough points to win Sunday.
PARTY FOOL-HARDY: At least Tim Tebow had some eye-opening, if brief, success in the NFL.
At this rate with Johnny Football, however, we’ll look back and snicker at what has all the makings of a briefer, laughably disastrous, empty NFL stint.
Sidelined for his Cleveland Browns’ last game on Sunday in Baltimore with a bad hamstring injury, rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel -- in his latest ‘attempt’ to convince the world he has left his notorious party-hardy days behind -- hosted some big-time do on Friday night.
Several teammates attended, according to multiple reports.
Suspension addict Josh Gordon was suspended for Sunday’s game for what the Browns said was a “violation of team rules.”
ESPN reported that both Gordon and Manziel were absent from the team’s Saturday morning walk-through, and the club was so concerned about the duo’s whereabouts they went searching for them.
Manziel, a first-round draft pick, also missed a rehab session on Saturday. He was fined by the team.
Manziel backed up Brian Hoyer for the first 13 games of the season, before starting against Cincinnati and playing about as terribly as an NFL quarterback can. He wasn’t much better last week before the injury.
Just this past week, Manziel reiterated his season-long credo that he wants his teammates and everyone to just trust him now -- that he can be “the guy.”
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was not impressed.
“We’re not going to tolerate people who are irresponsible, no matter what round they’re drafted in,” Haslam said after Cleveland’s 20-10 loss in Baltimore, per the Cleveland Plain-Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot.
You knew a Cleveland Browns season couldn’t end quietly, right?