During the week leading up to Week 17's matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, Lions' players guaranteed that running back Ryan Grant was not going to repeat his 101-yard performance, exactly the amount Grant need to reach 1,000 yards for the season, from the teams' first meeting.
As it turns out, the Lions followed through. By default.
Grant was knocked out of the game with a stinger in the first quarter, but had already rushed for 57 yards on just six carries, including a 27-yard touchdown scamper, his sixth straight game with a touchdown. Although coach Mike McCarthy said Grant could've come back in at any time, he didn't, leaving him just 44 yards short of 1,000. But the Packers' running game didn't miss a beat with him out of the game.
Rookie second round pick Brandon Jackson entered in place of Grant and rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries, and the Packers as a team rushed for a season-high 217 yards. Even Brett Favre had a 21-yard rush, his longest in over a decade.
It's becoming clear the Packers were never really a bad rushing team, they just needed some confidence in it. The running game took a lot of hits in the beginning of the year. Surrounded by uncertainty on who was starting and who was even healthy, the Packers second year zone-blocking scheme was not allowed to flourish.
However, when Grant entered the picture, everything fell into place. The Packers had a man running the football who showed the vision needed to hit cutback lanes. But on Sunday, even Jackson was running with more confidence and purpose than he had at the beginning of the year. Fact is, it's no longer about Grant. This is about a team that just got deeper heading into the playoffs.
Given the week off from the Packers' first round bye, Grant should be fine. But even when he exits the game, the Packers can be confident in who they put in to replace him. With a new fire burning under Brandon Jackson, the Packers have a legitimate two-back system. When you add in receiving-back specialist Vernand Morency, you might be able to make a case that the Packers have one of the deepest running back systems in the playoffs.
It certainly bodes well for the type of conditions you'll probably be seeing at Lambeau Field in two weeks, and it certainly can't hurt their chances in any other conditions, either. The Packers essentially blew out a division rival without Donald Driver, without Charles Woodson, without Greg Jennings, without Aaron Kampman, and they did it by running the football.
I hope you're paying attention, because if you still think this is the same team that went into their Bye Week at 5-1 with no one but Brett Favre to thank on offense, take a closer look.