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NFL Week 17: Aaron Rodgers gives Packers a leg up in playoff seedings

Aaron Rodgers comes back from calf injury to lead Packers past Lions, 30-20, clinching first-round playoff bye

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't put up his typical gaudy numbers Sunday. He didn't throw four touchdown passes or roll up 400 yards. He did something better.

He did the Lambeau Limp.

Rodgers, carted off in the first half with a calf injury, hobbled back in the second to lead the Packers to a 30-20 victory over Detroit for the NFC North title and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

"It's clearly an MVP performance — another MVP performance — by Aaron Rodgers," said Packers Coach Mike McCarthy, whose quarterback was named the league's most valuable player in 2011.

On a day of do-or-die finales, when San Francisco parted ways with Coach Jim Harbaugh, the San Diego Chargers and Atlanta Falcons bid adieu to their playoff hopes, and Seattle said hello to the NFC's No. 1 seed for the second consecutive season, it was Green Bay that provided the most compelling viewing.

The true drama started with 2 minutes 24 seconds left in the second quarter and the Packers five yards away from scoring a touchdown to go up 14-0. Rodgers took the snap, ran to his right and began hopping in pain after a few steps. He threw a sidearm toss to Randall Cobb for the score — almost an afterthought — then fell to the ground, having aggravated his calf injury.

He was transported to the locker room, and while he was being treated, Detroit roared back. The Lions scored touchdowns at the end of the first half and midway through the third quarter to forge a 14-14 tie and, with Matt Flynn at quarterback for Green Bay, clearly had the momentum.

That's when Rodgers came back. With a week off and a home playoff game hanging in the balance, he directed his team on two touchdown drives — the second of which he capped with a quarterback sneak — to once again turn back the Lions. Detroit has not won at Lambeau Field since 1991, and Matt Stafford is 0-16 in road games against winning teams.

Well, maybe Rodgers did have some gaudy numbers after all. He finished the game with a 139.6 passer rating and a final season rating of 112.2, making him the only player in league history to register a passer rating of at least 100 in six consecutive seasons.

Both Green Bay and Detroit are headed for the postseason, with the Packers getting a week off as the No. 2 seed, and the Lions playing a wild-card game at Dallas.

A possible huge setback for the Lions: All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh could face a suspension after appearing to intentionally step back on Rodgers while the quarterback was lying on the ground in the second half.

Lions center Dominic Raiola was suspended for the Packers game because he stomped on a Chicago player the week before. And Suh, widely regarded as the league's dirtiest player, famously stomped a Packers lineman in a 2012 Thanksgiving game.

In next weekend's other NFC wild-card game, Arizona will play at Carolina, with the 7-8-1 Panthers becoming the second losing team in NFL history to win its division. (In the 2010 season, Pete Carroll's first, Seattle made the playoffs at 7-9, then shocked defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans in a first-round game.)

In the AFC, San Diego could have secured a wild-card berth with a win in Kansas City, but the lifeless Chargers were undone by a stifling Chiefs defense and lost, 19-7.

The Chargers' defeat opened the door for Baltimore to get in, and the Ravens grabbed a wild-card berth by beating Cleveland.

Baltimore will play at Pittsburgh in the first round, after the Steelers beat Cincinnati on Sunday night. In the AFC's other wild-card game, Indianapolis will play host to the Bengals.

We're No. 1

For a bit Sunday, it looked as if Tampa Bay might win.

But ultimately, the 2-14 Buccaneers would not be denied. They lost to New Orleans, 23-20, locking down the No. 1 pick in this spring's draft.

"My comments last week were, 'We're going to get a good pick.' Nothing's really changed," Buccaneers Coach Lovie Smith said. "I know we're in a little bit better of a position, but going into this football game, I knew we were going to have an opportunity to get a pretty good football player."

It marks the first time since 1987 the franchise has held the top spot. The Buccaneers took Vinny Testaverde then, and might take a quarterback again, with the top two candidates being Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston. They will face each other Thursday in the Rose Bowl.

Asked about the possibility of the Buccaneers taking a quarterback, current starter Josh McCown said: "I know that they're going to make a great decision to help this team moving forward and regardless of what that is I want to help that guy help our team win football games and so if that's a D-tackle, then whatever I can do to help that guy, I'll help him; if it's a D-end then whatever I can do; if that's a left tackle, whatever I can do to help him; if it's a right guard and if it's a quarterback so be it. For me, my mind-set doesn't change."

Tennessee, which lost to Indianapolis to finish 2-14, will draft second.

Rounding out the top five picks are No. 3 Jacksonville, No. 4 Oakland, and No. 5 Washington.

Houston wranglers

Kansas City's Justin Houston had four sacks Sunday to finish the season with 22. That tops the club record of 20 set by the late Derrick Thomas in 1990.

Houston and Thomas are among 10 players in league history to rack up at least 20 sacks in a season. It's worth noting the NFL didn't start counting sacks until 1982.

Not to be outdone, Houston's J.J. Watt had three sacks against Jacksonville on Sunday, giving him 20 1/2 for the season. That made him the first player in NFL history with multiple 20-sack seasons.

Paydirt at last

Although his team lost at San Francisco, Arizona's Ryan Lindley threw the first two touchdown passes of his three-year career. He had gone 228 pass attempts without a touchdown, an NFL record.

Home away from home

With its 44-17 victory at Washington, Dallas not only picked up its fourth consecutive victory but also finished with a pristine road record of 8-0.

It's the second time in franchise history the Cowboys won all their road games; they went 7-0 away from home in 1968. ESPN noted that eight of the previous 10 teams that finished the regular season undefeated on the road wound up playing in the Super Bowl or NFL championship game — but only three of those eight won it all.

'Connor Football'

Well, at least one rookie quarterback worked out well for Cleveland this season.

The undrafted Connor Shaw, who spent the first 16 weeks on the practice squad, looked comfortable and poised against Baltimore on Sunday. He completed 14 of 28 for 177 yards, although he didn't throw a touchdown pass.

For the third consecutive year, the Browns had to dip into their depth chart and start a third-string quarterback. They have had 22 different starting quarterbacks in the last 16 years.

Cleveland now faces a big quarterback question: whether to keep Brian Hoyer, who will be a free agent, or cast its lot with Johnny Manziel.

On Sunday, the Browns were without suspended receiver Josh Gordon and first-round cornerback Justin Gilbert, who reportedly showed up late for a team meeting.

"I'm not going to address those guys," Coach Mike Pettine said. "To me, it's disrespectful to the guys who put the uniforms on today and played their hearts out for the Cleveland Browns. . . . There were guys who didn't need to go out there and play, who could have shut it down and didn't."

Chasing the dream

He has started two games in his five-year career — both against San Diego — but Kansas City's Chase Daniel deserves to be a regular starter somewhere next season.

The former Missouri standout was rock solid Sunday in directing the Chiefs' victory over San Diego, completing 16 of 27 for 157 yards. Those aren't eye-popping numbers, but Daniel was composed and controlled throughout. In his previous start, in Week 17 of last season, he completed 70% of his passes and ran for 59 yards against the Chargers, who posted a 27-24 victory in overtime.

Considering all the dubious starting quarterbacks in the league this season, Daniel, who spent his first three seasons learning behind Drew Brees in New Orleans, would be an upgrade in a lot of cities. Maybe even Kansas City.

Sign of the times

A Harbaugh-related sign spotted at Levi's Stadium: "Who's got it better than us? Michigan!"

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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