DETROIT – After the end of Thursday afternoon's game, the real drama got going.
A yellow rope went up in the long alleyway leading to the locker rooms after time expired in the Detroit Lions' 40-10 blowout of the Green Bay Packers. It was meant to separate the teams as they marched off the field, but it almost didn't. Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley walked up to the rope and stared across it as the Packers strode by. A teammate had to nudge him away. Moments later, players from the two teams started jawing, and expletives flew back and forth like footballs.
Some of the Lions were bent about some name-calling leading up to the game by Packers guard Josh Sitton. The offensive lineman had called Detroit's players "scumbags" and called coach Jim Schwartz something that shouldn't be printed on a family holiday. Fairley, standing at his locker after getting dressed, said, "I'm not talking" and left the room.
"Some of us took it personal," said defensive tackle C.J. Mosley. "They didn't have [No.] 12 back there, and it made a big difference. It was a cry for help."
"12" is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers were lost without him on Thursday. While the former MVP stood on the sideline and could only throw down a clipboard in frustration, Matt Flynn was demolished by a relentless Lions pass rush. Mosley felt the Packers were trying to lure referees into helping them out with penalties because they knew their leader couldn't bail them out.
"It was a little extra protection," Mosley said. "A bait. In Green Bay, they didn't say crap. Now they have so much to say."
Mosley said he didn't hear the back-and-forth after the game because he was in a "verbal altercation" with one of the other Packers, who he didn't name. He compared it to the squawking from the teacher in the "Peanuts" cartoons, calling it, "Charlie Brown language."
"If 12 was there," he said, "they wouldn't have nothing to say."
The story of the Lions' first Thanksgiving Day win in 10 years was the opposite of the story of the teams' first meeting this season. Then, Detroit star receiver Calvin Johnson was out with a knee injury, and the Lions looked helpless in a 22-9 loss. This time, despite four turnovers, the Lions had 561 total yards to the Packers' 126. The only thing holding the Lions back were their own maddening errors, which ranged from a red zone fumble to a holding call that negated a 60-yard return to a 31-yard missed field goal at the end of the first half to two (yes, two) kickoffs out of bounds. The lone lingering question was whether Detroit could once again beat itself.
The Packers, meanwhile, are just as bad without Rodgers as the Lions are without Johnson. Maybe worse. So it's hard to tell who is the better team, or who has the worse pass defense. Detroit moved into the outright lead in the NFC North, but the Lions have had a healthy quarterback all season and the Packers and Chicago Bears have not. That might be the margin of victory at the end of the season. Then again, Detroit has a track record of giving their fans indigestion well after Turkey Day has come and gone.
For now, the Lions feel vindicated. Sitton himself said he wouldn't take the remarks back, but he called Thursday's loss "one of the worst beats I have ever been a part of. It's embarrassing."
Those comments will surely make it back to the Lions.
"The golden rule is, you don't give anybody bulletin board material," said receiver Nate Burleson.
"Certain things, you keep to yourself."
The tone was set before the game started, as the Lions' defensive line decided on Wednesday to ignore the individual introductions Thursday and come out as one unit.
"We hadn't ever done that together," said defensive end Devin Taylor. "It felt more significant to do it that way."
Significant is the right word; the Lions' front looked as dominant as it ever has, with five of the defense's seven sacks, a forced fumble, and a safety by Ndamukong Suh. For two straight years, Suh had gotten into trouble with the league because of controversial plays on Thanksgiving – the "Suh stomp" on Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith earned him a suspension in 2011; and a kick to the groin of Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub got him fined last season. Suh got a hold of Flynn in the end zone on Thursday and started to whip him around in a familiar rag-doll tackle, but he let up and almost gently placed him on the ground.
It's unclear if the Lions' line wanted to send a message to the league or to the Packers or both, but they were as restrained as they were annoyed.
Burleson said the comments bothered him as soon as he heard them because Sitton was "talking about our family," but the subject never came up in the locker room. There is a concerted effort in Detroit to be mature when it's tempting to become unglued. "We came to work and it was clear everybody heard it," Burleson said. "We're taking it the right way; doing our talking with our pads."
Their opponents, however, are not. This is now the second time in a month a player from a division rival has blasted the Lions. Chicago's Brandon Marshall said Detroit's front was "borderline illegal" and "disgusting" after Detroit beat the Bears for the second time this season. That reputation is not new, but what is new is the Lions are 3-1 against Chicago and Green Bay this season after being 0-4 against them last season.
So it's either one of two things: calling it as they see it, or a "cry for help."
It's pretty clear after Thursday that the Packers need serious help, and it can only come from one guy: