The first playoff exposure for the Packers after a sensational season was on point, though often not dominant, as Aaron Rodgers moved one step closer to his second Super Bowl appearance.
What often looked to be evolving into a rout Saturday night for Rodgers and the Packers devolved into something less than that, as the Rams refused to go away and hide, despite several openings to do so. When pressured, the Packers responded and had ultimately had no problem securing a 32-18 victory in an NFC divisional game at Lambeau Field.
There were about 9,000 fans allowed to watch in person at the not-frozen tundra, as the temperature at kickoff was 35 degrees and light snow fell from time to time. It was not vintage Green Bay postseason weather, and this was not vintage pyrotechnic passing by Rodgers (23-of-36, 296 yards, two touchdowns). Unable to hit anything deep for more than three quarters against the NFL’s top-rated defense, the Packers took to the ground to accomplish what they needed to get done. They ran for 188 yards, split between Aaron Jones (99 yards), Jamaal Williams (65) and A.J. Dillon (27).
What comes next is vitally important for Rodgers and the franchise. Since winning the Super Bowl following the 2010 season, the Packers, though not exactly playoff patsies, have certainly not been playoff powerhouses. They made it into the postseason seven times and are 6-7 in their past 13 playoff games — losing once in the wild-card round, three times in the divisional round and three times in the NFC Championship game. As the No. 1 seed, they get to stay home and face the winner of Sunday’s Saints-Buccaneers matchup in the NFC title game. It will be the first NFC title game for Rodgers at Lambeau Field.
The Rams, down 25-10, pulled closer when running back Cam Akers out of the Wildcat formation took a direct snap and powered 7 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter. Some trickery on the two-point conversion — Akers got into the end zone after a hook-and-ladder flip from rookie Van Jefferson — cut the deficit to 25-18.
A response was needed. A response was made.
The Packers got a stop on defense, thanks to a sack of Jared Goff by Kenny Clark. Rodgers saved a possession by pouncing on a fumble on a botched exchange with Dillon. Three plays later, Rodgers after an exquisite play-fake, hit Allen Lazard, who split defensive backs Jordan Fuller and Troy Hill for a 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown hookup with 6:52 remaining. That was that.
To have any shot at an upset, the Rams needed a huge game from Aaron Donald, their “Terminator’’ star defensive tackle, but did not come close to getting nearly enough. Donald, dealing with a rib injury, spent plenty of time watching from the sideline — he missed 11 snaps in the first half — and never got into a groove. His only impact came early in the second quarter, when he got into a scuffle with Elgton Jenkins and was flagged for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for grabbing Jenkins’ facemask.
The Rams also had to go without their best wide receiver, Cooper Kupp, and their starting left guard, David Edwards, both out with injuries.
Knowing they needed touchdowns and not field goals to stay with Rodgers, the Rams wanted to be aggressive in the first quarter on fourth-and-1 on the Green Bay 14. Sean McVay kept his offense on the field but then had to pull it off after right guard Austin Corbett was called for a false start penalty. Matt Gay’s 37-yard field goal to make it 3-3 seemed like a booby prize for the Rams.
On a 14-play, 84-yard drive, the longest run or pass for the Packers was a mere 9 yards. On the game’s first touchdown, Rodgers put Davante Adams in motion to the left, then called for Adams to quickly motion back to the right. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey stayed with Adams for the first motion but lost him on the second, allowing Adams to break free to haul in a 1-yard scoring pass. Ramsey was furious that no one picked Adams up on the play and let his teammates know about it.
The Packers led 19-10 at halftime. Any notion something could be different in the second half was dashed when Jones on the first play of the third quarter scooted 60 yards. That sparked a 75-yard drive — every yard coming on the ground — finished off with Jones’ 1-yard spinning touchdown plunge to put the Packers ahead 25-10. It got closer, but not close enough to oust the Packers.
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