Saturday, January 15, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Packers 48, Falcons 21
By Kevin Seifert
ATLANTA -- A few thoughts after the Green Bay Packers dismantled the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome:
What it means: The Packers earned a spot in the NFC Championship Game, which we be played either at Soldier Field or Qwest Field -- depending upon the winner of Sunday's divisional matchup between the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks. No matter the opponent, the Packers will enter the game as hot as any team in the NFL. They have won four consecutive "elimination" games, dating back to Week 16 of the regular season. And Saturday night's game displayed most every factor that made them a trendy preseason pick to win the Super Bowl: elite play from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a swarming, opportunistic defense. By the way, the NFC's No. 1 seed entered this game 18-2 in the divisional round over the previous 20 seasons. But the Falcons ran into a Packers team that clearly is peaking in the playoffs.
RodgersWatch: We should all take a moment to absorb this one. But my instinct is to suggest that we just watched one of the best postseason performances in a generation. Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns, finishing with a passer rating of 136.8. He ran for a fourth touchdown and, by my count, spun out of four would-be sacks with mobility that national observers are only beginning to appreciate. Oh, by the way, Rodgers has now thrown 10 touchdown passes in his first three career postseason games, an NFL record.
Turning point: The Packers scored two touchdowns in the final 42 seconds of the second quarter, turning a game tied at 14 into a 28-14 advantage. First, Rodgers moved the Packers 80 yards in 1 minute, 38 seconds, capping the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to James Jones. The Falcons appeared set to answer, moving the ball to the Packers' 26-yard line with 14 seconds remaining, but a sack from linebacker Clay Matthews preceded Tramon Williams' 70-yard interception return for a score.
WilliamsWatch: Williams intercepted passes to end consecutive second-quarter possessions; his first came in the end zone on a pass Matt Ryan underthrew. Williams now has three interceptions in the playoffs and, like Rodgers, is making Pro Bowl voters look pretty foolish right now.
Taking a punch: The Packers trailed 7-0 and 14-7 in this game, the latter after giving up a 102-yard kickoff return to Eric Weems in the second quarter. But Rodgers led the Packers to touchdowns on the ensuing drive after each Falcons score, a resiliency that allowed the Packers to weather the early emotional storm at the Georgia Dome.
What's next: A day of waiting to find out if the Packers will be headed to Chicago or Seattle next Sunday.