Aaron Rodgers simply threw his hands in the air and pumped his fist. No, he doesn’t celebrate like Brett Favre.
Rodgers doesn’t have to worry about the ghost of Favre anymore. He’s made his own name with the Green Bay Packers, even moreso with his first playoff victory.
Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, seldom-used rookie James Starks ran for 123 yards and the Packers beat Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles 21-16 in an NFC wild-card game Sunday.
”I never felt like there was a monkey on my back,” Rodgers said. ”I’m just so proud of these guys.”
Rodgers had to watch from the sideline while Vick nearly led the Eagles back. But Tramon Williams intercepted Vick’s pass for Riley Cooper in the end zone with 33 seconds left to seal the win.
Favre may have run on the field and carried Williams off on his shoulder after that play. Rodgers is a little more subdued than No. 4. He grabbed his helmet and went out to kneel down for the final play.
”We fought hard today,” Rodgers said. ”Big interception by Tramon who’s had a great season for us.”
The sixth-seeded Packers (11-6) are heading to Atlanta (13-3) for a divisional playoff game next Saturday night.
Rodgers patiently waited three years to become Green Bay’s starter and took over after Favre’s messy departure before the 2008 season. He long ago made Packers fans forget about Favre, and now has punctuated his impressive resume with his first playoff win in two tries.
”Defense played great. They’ve been carrying us a lot this season,” Rodgers said. ”We had three touchdowns tonight, it was enough to win.”
It wasn’t Rodgers’ fault Green Bay lost 51-45 in overtime to Arizona last January. These aren’t the same Packers. This patchwork squad has 10 different starters, and a much stronger defense.
Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Co. contained Vick for the most part. Vick threw for 292 yards and ran for 33 in his first playoff start since losing the 2005 NFC championship game on the same field as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
”I feel like I got greedy and took a shot at the end zone,” Vick said about his last pass. ”I didn’t throw the ball I wanted and got picked. It’s not the way I wanted to go out, but I went down swinging. I have to learn from it.”
Vick has come a long way since he was one of the game’s biggest stars during his days in Atlanta. He missed two seasons while serving 18 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting operation, played sparingly in a backup role last year and only got his chance after Matthews knocked Kevin Kolb out in Green Bay’s 27-20 win in Philadelphia in Week 1.
Vick made the most of the opportunity. He had the best season of his career and was selected to start the Pro Bowl for the NFC.
Vick can go to Hawaii now because the Eagles (10-7) are going home.
This was Green Bay’s third straight win in an elimination game. The Packers routed the Giants on Dec. 26 to stay alive in the playoff race, and beat Chicago last week to secure a playoff berth.
The Eagles were the talk of the NFL after a sensational comeback win at the New York Giants on Dec. 19. But a stunning loss to lowly Minnesota on Dec. 28 cost the NFC East champions a chance at a first-round bye, and it seemed their Super Bowl hopes went down with that defeat.
Then again, the Eagles might have advanced if Pro Bowl kicker David Akers hadn’t missed field goals of 41 and 34 yards.
”We can all count, and those points would have helped,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said.
The supposedly one-dimensional Packers found a running game by giving the ball to Starks. The sixth-round pick who played in just three games had 101 yards rushing all year. The Packers had trouble running all year after Ryan Grant went down for the season in Week 1. But they exposed weaknesses in Philadelphia’s defense.
The Eagles got within 21-16 when Vick sneaked in from the 1 with 4:02 left. The 2-point conversion failed, but the defense held and Philadelphia got the ball back at the Packers 34 with 1:45 left.
Vick completed passes of 28 yards to DeSean Jackson and 11 yards to Cooper before he threw the pick from the 27.
Jackson and Cooper both thought Vick should’ve spiked the ball and called a huddle. But he had other ideas.
”I just feel we rushed that last play and we didn’t have to rush it,” Jackson said. ”That’s what I was trying to say. ‘Just down the ball, just spike the ball, just kind of get back to the huddle and regroup.’ But he called ‘All go.” We just ran what was called so that’s neither here nor there. It’s just unfortunate.”
Vick had 175 yards passing and 103 rushing in the season opener against Green Bay, nearly rallying the Eagles back from a 17-point deficit. He said afterward that he wished he played the whole game because he thought the outcome would’ve been different.
He had his chance, and fell short.
Down 14-3, the Eagles got back in it when their struggling defense forced a turnover on the first possession of the second half. Darryl Tapp knocked the ball out of Rodgers’ hands and Juqua Parker recovered at the Packers 24.
Vick then made a perfect 24-yard TD pass over the middle to Jason Avant, who was surrounded by four defenders, to cut it to 14-10.
But Green Bay responded. Rodgers threw a 16-yard TD pass to Brandon Jackson to extend the lead to 21-10.
The Eagles failed to convert on third-and-1 from the Packers 16 early in the fourth and Akers was wide right from 34 yards out.
The Packers went ahead 7-0 late in first quarter on Rodgers’ 7-yard TD pass to Tom Crabtree. Rodgers kept the drive going by scrambling away from trouble and tossing a 9-yard pass to John Kuhn on third-and-7. He found a wide-open Crabtree on the next play. It was the first career TD for Crabtree, who had just four catches the entire season.
On Green Bay’s next drive, Rodgers ran for 8 yards on third-and-5. Then his 9-yard TD pass to James Jones made it 14-0.
The Packers should’ve led 21-3 at halftime except Jones dropped a perfectly thrown deep pass in the final minute that would’ve been a 63-yard TD. Jones beat Asante Samuel on a fly pattern, but the ball bounced out of his hands.
Jones had issues with drops during the season. A disappointed Rodgers fell to his knees and put his hands on his helmet when he saw the ball hit the ground.
The Packers were preseason favorites to reach the Super Bowl, but a slew of injuries took a toll. Fifteen players went on injured reserve, with Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley among the six starters.
Notes: The Packers are 1-2 in three road playoff games against Philadelphia. … The Eagles beat Green Bay in the 1960 NFL championship game, giving Vince Lombardi his only playoff defeat. In January 2004, Philadelphia beat the Packers in overtime in the divisional round after converting on fourth-and-26 with 1:12 left in regulation. … Starks had the most yards rushing in the postseason by a rookie in franchise history. … Jackson missed a couple series in the first half with a left knee injury.