GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Calvin Johnson's absence was impossible to ignore.
"It's hard to not say 'yes,'" Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after Sunday's 22-9 victory over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. "Obviously, you want to keep your offense focused on their defense because we're not playing against Calvin Johnson when we line up but it definitely changes their offense. He's a dynamic player; one of the top players in the league. Not having him out there definitely helped our cause."
The Lions, who started the day atop the division, were without Johnson (knee), who was a surprise scratch after being limited at Friday's practice. Without arguably the NFL's best receiver, the Lions were doomed to their record 23rd consecutive loss in the state of Wisconsin.
"I think anytime a player like Calvin Johnson goes out of the game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, "I think it would be no different than someone like Clay Matthews -- you're surprised, definitely you have to adjust your thinking. But football is still football."
It was a critical victory for the Packers, who improved to 2-2 and are 7-1 after their bye week under McCarthy. The Lions dropped to 3-2 and lost out on a chance to sweep their first round of division games.
The Packers couldn't take charge until the third quarter with Detroit's pass rush limiting Green Bay's prolific passing attack. With Green Bay nursing a 9-3 lead, Rodgers hit James Jones for an 83-yard touchdown with 3:12 to play in the third quarter. Jones ran right by top cornerback Chris Houston and caught the ball up the right sideline at about the 46, then broke back inside against a safety to race into the end zone.
Without Johnson, that 13-point deficit was too much to overcome. The Lions had 170 yards through three quarters, struggling to sustain anything against a defense that entered the day ranked 28th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed.
After Green Bay tacked on a field goal to make it 19-3, the Lions moved to the Packers' 30-yard line on the ensuing possession. However, that drive died when receiver Kris Durham fell on a fourth-and-3 pass.
"(Johnson) is one of the guys on our team that can stretch the field," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We didn't make enough plays to win the game. We knew Calvin would do everything that he could to possibly play. We kind of had an idea yesterday that he wasn't going to play. He tried to come out today and give it a go but he wasn't able to do it. If anybody can fight through an injury, it is that guy. I appreciate him doing everything he could to try to get out there. I know he wanted to be out there."
What the Packers said
"It's a pretty good streak. It's almost unheard of. What, (22) years now? That's a long time. I wouldn't like to come over here and play us if I were them." -- Guard Josh Sitton said of Green Bay's 23-game home winning streak over Detroit, which includes a record 22 in a row in the regular season and one in the playoffs.
What the Lions said
"We can't make excuses for ourselves. Whether Calvin (Johnson) is out or not, we still need to find a way to get it done. This is part of football. Guys are going to get injured and we have to find a way to get it done. I needed to do a better job of running the ball today. I didn't play well today." -- Running back Reggie Bush
What we learned about the Packers
1. The Packers have an honest-to-goodness running game. The Packers are on pace to rush for 2,256 yards after Sunday and entered the game ranked ninth in rushing. The Packers haven't topped 2,000 rushing yards since 2003 and haven't finished in the top 10 since 2004. They're averaging 5.3 yards per carry, a huge improvement over 3.9 in 2012, 3.9 in 2011 and 3.8 in 2010.
2. The Packers can play a complete game. Through the first three games, they had been outscored 39-7 in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, the Packers seized control in the second half and didn't let the Lions catch their breath, their trivial fourth-quarter touchdown notwithstanding.
What we learned about the Lions
1. Should Calvin Johnson be in the running for league MVP? With a 3-1 record entering the game, the Lions had much more than a puncher's chance of knocking off the Packers and putting a strong grip on the NFC North with early wins against Chicago and Minnesota in their pocket. With Johnson inactive (knee), Matthew Stafford looked like just another quarterback and Reggie Bush looked like just another running back.
2. On turf, Detroit's defensive line is a ferocious bunch. On the road, it's just not as good. Ndamukong Suh, who dominated the Bears last week, was quiet with four tackles. Ziggy Ansah had the unit's only sack, but that was because of outstanding coverage. Willie Young had two tackles, and Nick Fairley and Israel Idonije had one apiece.