Aaron Rodgers did a jig after his first touchdown pass. Later, he was smiling and nodding and thrusting both arms overhead.
And why not? He has a lot more fun when his offence is balanced – and the Green Bay Packers score seemingly at will.
Spurred by a bit of hurry-up, and a bunch of running, the wild-card Packers got going after a rough start Sunday, with Rodgers throwing for a pair of TDs while Eddie Lacy and James Starks each rushed for a score, and Green Bay beat the NFC East champion Washington 35-18 to reach the divisional round.
Rodgers opened 1-for-8, and the Packers’ first four drives ended this way: punt, safety, punt, punt. They had all of 11 yards – yes, just 11 – after one quarter.
But trailing 11-0 early in the second quarter, two-time NFL MVP Rodgers and the Packers suddenly began to show the sort of ability to gain yards in chunks and put points on the board they had been missing while losing six of their final 10 games and letting the NFC North title slip away.
Green Bay (11-6) will play at the No. 2 seed Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night. In the other NFC game next weekend, the No. 1 seed Carolina Panthers will play host to the wild-card Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
With the Packers and Seahawks joining the AFC’s Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, it’s the first time road teams went 4-0 in the wild-card round under the current NFL playoff format, which started in 1990.
Washington (9-8) had won four games in a row, but its season ends without a single victory over a team that finished with a winning record.
Rodgers finished 21-for-36 for 210 yards and no interceptions. Washington QB Kirk Cousins, making his first career playoff start after a breakthrough season, was 29-for-46 for 329 yards. He threw for one touchdown, lost one fumble and was sacked six times.
Here is how effective Green Bay was against a Washington defence that had earned a bend-but-don’t-break-reputation: The Packers scored on five straight possessions in one stretch, with four TDs and a field goal. Green Bay compiled its highest point total since a season-high 38 in Week 3.
Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams in the end zone en route to a 17-11 halftime lead. In the second half, Starks scored from four yards out, and Lacy from two, as the Packers ran the ball on 13 of 15 snaps. After gaining 17 yards on nine carries in the first half, Green Bay finished with more than 140 yards rushing.
Washington looked like the better team in the early going.
The game was barely 4 1/2 minutes old when Washington led 2-0 on its first post-season safety since 1984 – rookie linebacker Preston Smith got to Rodgers for his sixth sack in the past four games.
Washington then went ahead 5-0 on Dustin Hopkins’s 25-yard field goal, but the lead could have been larger. DeSean Jackson caught a pass from Cousins and initially was ruled to have scored, but the points came off when it was ruled that the ball never crossed the goal line.
Later, Cousins connected with tight end Jordan Reed for a 24-yard score and, after a missed extra-point attempt, it was 11-0.
That was when Rodgers, the MVP of the 2011 Super Bowl, turned things around. Rodgers looked a lot more like himself in the second quarter, going 5-for-6 for 68 yards on a drive that ended with a 12-yard TD pass to Cobb, drawing Green Bay within 11-7. And Rodgers pulled out all his usual tricks, twice going with a quick snap that generated a too-many-men penalty on Washington’s defence.
Later in that quarter, Cousins was strip-sacked by Mike Neal, who also recovered the fumble, which the Packers turned into a 43-yard field goal to get to within one point.
Rodgers added his second scoring toss of the quarter with 28 seconds left, a 10-yarder to Adams that gave the Packers a 17-11 halftime lead. Rodgers danced around after that TD, and threw some fist pumps, too, feeling good about his offence for the first time in a while.Report Typo/Error