NEWS

Lions 7, Packers 3

Posted Dec 12, 2010

Football is a game of surprises.

The Lions' Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler have combined for more catches than any other pair of tight ends in the NFL.

So which tight end scores the touchdown Sunday that gives Detroit a 7-3 victory against the Green Bay Packers?

Answer: Will Heller.

Heller is the nine-year veteran who is known more for his blocking than his receiving. He had only two receptions coming into the game, but his 13-yard touchdown on a tight end screen from quarterback Drew Stanton was one of the biggest plays in the Lions' first win in 11 games against the Packers.

"It was a long drive and Brandon made some big plays to get us in position," Heller said. "I was just in to give him a blow. It was a good situation for (the tight end screen) because (the Packers) were bringing pressure off the edge with (Clay) Matthews.

"I got a hand on him and was able to release behind him. The lane opened up and the line made some big blocks."

The tight end screen has been a staple of the Lions' offense all season.

"It's been an effective play," Heller said. "Why? Probably the timing of it; when it's called. Knowing the situation (the defense) is going to be in. I'm sure (Green Bay) wasn't expecting me to run it of all people."

The touchdown caught Heller by surprise. He wasn't even prepared for an end zone celebration.

"I was a little surprised I ended up in the end zone," he said with a smile. "I was still registering what happened so I just went with the classic spike."

Heller's rare touchdown -- the 11th of his NFL career -- turned out to be the game winner because of an outstanding defensive effort by the Lions.

The Packers had only two first downs in the scoreless first half -- one on a penalty -- and finished with 13 for the game. Green Bay's third-down efficiency was a meager 17 percent (2-for-12).

Detroit's defense knocked starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of the game late in the first half with a concussion, however, it didn't make any difference whether Rodgers or his backup, Matt Flynn, was in the game. Both were under constant pressure from the Lions' front four.

"(Green Bay coach) Mike McCarthy said that the front line is what drives (the Detroit) defense," said defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. "When I first got together with them in OTAs, I saw they had talent. It just takes time to gel.

"What better way to do it than against those guys. The Green Bay Packers do such a great job of using their personnel."

The solid defensive effort didn't just happen.

"We didn't sleep this week," Cunningham said. "Wednesday night I left at 11 and came back at 3:30 and the young defensive coaches were still there. I think the players knew the commitment we had."

Cunningham said that the communication on defense was a big part of Sunday's performance. It all started with middle linebacker DeAndre Levy, who calls the defensive signals.

"DeAndre Levy did something last week that nobody noticed with his communication signal calls," Cunningham said. "There aren't many linebackers in the NFL that can do that. We didn't win that game but that part of the execution was outstanding.

"Somebody called me last week and said, 'Gun, that middle linebacker made some miraculous calls.' And he's getting better every week. The problem we have is that everybody's hurt. I don't know how many guys we lost today."

Linebacker Landon Johnson, defensive end Cliff Avril and cornerback Brandon McDonald all left the game with injuries, but midseason acquisitions Bobby Carpenter, Prince Miller and others filled in admirably.

"One thing I emphasize, personally and as a unit, is communication," said Levy, the second-year linebacker from Wisconsin, who has missed considerable time himself with injuries. "It gets pretty loud out there at times. Sometimes you get the call in and sometimes you're going to hurry up. I always tell guys, even though it's my responsibility, to get the call.

"I need help from the front line to communicate it down. The safeties communicated all the way out to the backside corner when I can't get there. That's one thing we've definitely improved on the last couple of weeks, in addition to finally finishing a game. There have been four or five times that the defense had a chance to seal up a game or get the ball back for our offense so they could win it and we came up short. It felt good to come out on the opposite end of that."

Levy did much more than call defensive signals. He led the team with eight tackles and had an interception in the end zone with 4:40 left in the third quarter when the Packers were making a bid to add to their 3-0 lead.

"We were in a blitz and I tried to check out of it with a matchup look, so I figured they were going to try to take a shot," Levy explained. "I dropped out in the seam. (Donald) Driver did a little stutter and go. I got into the lane, it came to me and I caught it. They were about to go up by two scores so I was hoping we could make a play."

Detroit's defense came up big one final time as the game was winding down. The Packers drove from their nine-yard line to the Lions 32. On fourth down and one, Flynn overthrew Brandon Jennings in the end zone and Detroit was able to run out the clock.

"It was fourth-and-one and obviously you want to take away the short pass," said coach Jim Schwartz. "You want to challenge guys and you want your corners to play with some confidence, challenge them and make a quarterback throw a low-percentage completion. That's low percentage when you're trying to throw a deep corner route against tight coverage (by cornerback Nathan Vasher).

"You have the potential to give up the big play but you also have the potential for it to be a long foul ball and that's what we saw."

Levy said that there's a reason Detroit's defense has continued to play well despite losing so many players.

"That's something we've had to deal with since OTAs," Levy said. "We didn't realize it at the time but that's helped. Looking back, (the backups) got a lot of reps and when they got called they were ready to play."

Another one who has filled in well is defensive end Turk McBride. McBride, starting for the injured Vanden Bosch, had two of the Lions' four sacks.

"We have a lot of talent on the defense," McBride said. "We work well together. There aren't many things that we can't adjust to. It's just how we roll with the punches."

Heller said that the goal is to finish strong. Sunday's victory started the final quarter of the season on the right foot.

Like Schwartz said, "that wasn't pretty, but it was beautiful."

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