The Green Bay Packers are set to close out the 2021 NFL season this Sunday in Detroit in a meaningless game against last place Lions. The Packers have already clinched the top seed in the NFC playoffs and the first-round bye that goes along with it. The outcome of this game will have no impact on the Packers heading into the playoffs.
This is very reminiscent of the final game of 2011 when the Packers hosted the Lions in a game that also had no impact on the Packers playoff standing. The Packers were 14-1 coming into this game while the Lions were 10-5. Both teams were going to the playoffs. Head coach Mike McCarthy rested starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers and five other starters for this game to make sure they did not suffer an injury.
So, the Packers started backup quarterback Matt Flynn who was making only the second start of his NFL career. Flynn had the game of his life and set a Packers franchise record with six touchdown passes in a 45-41 Packers win. Flynn finished the game 30-of-44 for 480 yards and those six scoring passes. Jordy Nelson was Flynn’s top target, catching nine passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns.
“Before the game, after the first drive, after the second drive, I never thought this would be a six-touchdown game, but that’s what it took,” Flynn told the Chicago Tribune after the game. “It’s pretty incredible to sit back now and see what we did in a game but that’s what was necessary.”
This was a back and forth game with 11 lead changes and the two teams combined for 1,125 yards of offense, 59 first downs, six turnovers and one safety.
Flynn wasn’t the only quarterback who had a strong game as Lions starter Matthew Stafford completed 36-of-59 passes for 520 yards and five touchdowns although Stafford was intercepted twice, once by Jarrett Bush and once by Sam Shields.
The end of the game was dramatic as the Packers took a 38-34 lead midway through the fourth quarter when Flynn found Donald Driver on a 35-yard touchdown toss.
The Lions regained the lead on a six-play, 93-yard drive that culminated with a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Scheffler.
That left Flynn with 2:39 when the Packers took over at their own 20 yard line. Flynn quickly moved the Packers downfield. With three timeouts in his back pocket, he attacked the middle of the field, finding James Jones for 16 yards and then running back Brandon Saine over the middle for seven more. One play later, the Packers got a first down when Ndamukong Suh jumped offsides which put the Packers at their own 48.
Two plays later, the Packers faced a 3rd and four from the Detroit 46. Flynn again looked for Jones, finding him deep down the right side for a 40-yard gain which gave the Packers 1st-and-goal at the Detroit 6 with 1:25 left on the clock.
After a two-yard run by fullback John Kuhn, Flynn tossed the go-ahead touchdown pass to tight end Jermichael Finley and the Packers led 45-41 with 1:13 left.
The Lions got the ball back on their own 20 with two timeouts remaining. A touchdown would put the Lions ahead and the way the game was going, Stafford has more than enough time to score the potential game-winning touchdown.
Stafford moved Detroit quickly completing three straight passes, one to Kevin Smith sandwiched around two to Calvin Johnson. The Lions called their second timeout with 33 seconds left at the Green Bay 37. Stafford looked deep down the left side for Nate Burleson but Shields stepped in and picked off the pass to clinch the win for the Packers.
“It was clearly one of the best performances I’ve been a part of, no doubt about it,” McCarthy said after the game. “I can’t say enough about Matt Flynn. The whole world got to see what we see every day. He’s a talented young man.”
Flynn’s performance was a big one for him because he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Flynn ended up signing a three-year, $26 million deal with the Seahawks. He was expected to win the starting job but lost out to a rookie third-round pick named Russell Wilson and never started a game for the Seahawks.
Still, Flynn’s magic moment remains a Packers record even a decade later although Rodgers has matched it twice since then.
“He’s a great player, great quarterback,” James Jones told reporters after the game. “He just showed the world what he can do.”
For one game at least, Matt Flynn was an all-world NFL quarterback. It was by far the best game of his NFL career. This performance earned him a big payday and gave the Packers a 15-1 record for the season.
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