As Aaron Rodgers trotted off the field, savoring another playoff win, he was serenaded with chants of ”Go, Pack, Go!”
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This wasn’t Lambeau Field, but it sure sounded like it.
Looking very much at home, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, ran for another score and led the Green Bay Packers to their second straight postseason road victory with a stunning 48-21 rout of the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night.
”This just feels so good right now,” said Rodgers, who threw for 366 yards and led Green Bay to the highest-scoring playoff game in its storied history.
The Packers (12-6) will have to win one more on the road to complete their improbable run from sixth seed to the Super Bowl, but nothing looks out of the question the way Rodgers is playing. He’ll lead Green Bay into the NFC Championship Game at Chicago next weekend.
”This probably was my best performance – the stage we were on, the importance of this game,” Rodgers said. ”It was a good night.”
He completed 31 of 36 passes and put up more yards than Brett Favre – the guy he replaced in Green Bay – ever threw for in a playoff game. After knocking off Michael Vick and the Eagles in Philadelphia, then dominating Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Atlanta, Rodgers is creating his own legacy in Titletown USA.
Green Bay scored 35 consecutive points, including Tramon Williams’ 70-yard interception return on the final play of the first half that left the Falcons (13-4) and a crowd of more than 69,000 in a state of shock as the teams headed to the locker room.
The Packers could have left punter Tim Masthay at home. He was never needed.
”I felt like I was in the zone,” Rodgers said.
Ryan, who beat out Rodgers for a spot in the Pro Bowl, had a miserable night. He had a pass picked off in the end zone, costing Atlanta another scoring chance early on that might have changed the complexion of the game, and lost a fumble attempting a simple sneak. In two career playoff games, Matty Ice is 0-2 with six turnovers and a safety.
”Anytime you’re in the playoffs, you have an opportunity to win it all,” Ryan said. ”When that doesn’t happen, it’s frustrating.”
The Falcons went into the playoffs as the NFC’s top-seeded team for only the second time in franchise history. The result was the same as it was during the 1980 season: one and done.
In the locker room afterward, coach Mike Smith tried to make sense of it for his players.
”We will learn from it. That’s the important thing,” he said. ”I also told ’em, as bad as they feel right now, remember the whole body of work we put out there this year. We can’t forget that, either.”
This game was pretty much over when Rodgers guided the Packers on an 80-yard drive to open the second half, running the last 7 yards for the TD that made it 35-14.
When Rodgers drove the Packers on yet another scoring drive, capped off with a 7-yard pass to John Kuhn late in the third quarter, thousands of red-clad fans headed for the exits, not even bothering to hang around for the final period of a magical season than turned into a green nightmare in the playoffs.
The Falcons simply couldn’t stop Rodgers, who carved up the Atlanta defense on four drive of at least 80 yards.
Time after time, Rodgers ducked a shoulder or pulled off a nifty spin move to get away from a rusher, leaving him grasping at air. Inevitably, he found the open man in what became an increasingly tortured night for the Falcons.
”I had eyes in the back of my head,” Rodgers quipped.
Atlanta’s only defensive stop came on Green Bay’s opening possession, when Stephen Nicholas chased down Greg Jennings from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by Brett Grimes.
The Falcons quickly drove for the opening score, a 12-yard run by Michael Turner. Unfortunately for the home team, it had to give the ball back to Rodgers. And, as everyone soon discovered, there was no stopping No. 12. A 13-play, 81-yard drive evened the score, Rodgers finishing it off with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson.
The Falcons’ last gasp, as it turned out, was Eric Weems’ 102-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, the longest scoring play in NFL playoff history.
Rodgers went right back to work, even after the Packers bobbled the next kickoff out of bounds at the 8-yard line. With nearly the entire field in front of him, he guided the Packers 92 yards in 10 plays for Kuhn’s 1-yard plunge that made it 14-all.
Ryan was the first to crack in this quarterback duel. He had the Falcons in scoring position again, but Michael Jenkins slipped on a pass in the end zone, allowing Williams to make an easy interception.
Back to Rodgers, who needed only seven plays to torch the Falcons on an 80-yard drive. The touchdown was a perfectly thrown pass to James Jones along the side of the end zone, allowing the receiver to leap over the shorter cornerback Grimes for a 20-yard score with 48 seconds left in the first half.
The Packers had their first lead, 21-14, but it was still a game.
Not for long.
Atlanta hustled into position to try a field goal before halftime, thanks to a pair of pass interference penalties. But Ryan was sacked by Clay Matthews with 10 seconds to go, forcing the Falcons to call their final timeout.
Instead of sending out Matt Bryant to attempt a 53-yard kick, coach Mike Smith wanted to get it a little closer. Bad move. The Packers knew Ryan had to throw it near the sideline to stop the clock, and Williams read the play perfectly.
The cornerback, who sealed the win over the Eagles by intercepting a pass by Vick in the end zone, stepped in front of a quick out pass intended for Roddy White and was gone on a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown on the final play of the half.
”I recognized the formation,” Williams said. ”I knew they were trying to get into position for a field goal.”
The second half was one long victory lap for the Packers, whose hefty contingent of fans was able to move down right near the edge of the emptying Georgia Dome and cheer on their team.
For the Falcons, nothing but misery.
A long pass completion was overturned with a replay. Ryan fumbled a snap while attempting a sneak on third-and-short. Jenkins lost the ball after a catch, Atlanta’s fourth turnover of the night. Tony Gonzalez hobbled off with a sprained ankle.