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By CHRIS HAVEL
Arizona rematch in the cards as Packers KO Redskins to advance
It wasn’t as if the clouds parted, the sun shone bright and Lombardi himself looked down with that trademark gap-toothed grin to smile upon the Packers. It was even more dramatic.
Now that is what the Green Bay Packers’ offense is supposed to look like. Not that cheap first quarter facsimile that lingered into the post-season.
This was the real McCarthy: An offense with a jolly Aaron Rodgers for the first time in what seems like forever, and a legit reason to smile after a 35-18 win over the Redskins in Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff at Washington.
The win sets up a rematch with the NFC West champion Cardinals, the NFC’s No. 2 seed, Saturday night at Arizona.
But before talking desert let’s talk just desserts. After a quarter or so of lollygagging, the Packers’ offense played crisply enough to be part of a fairly convincing, highly confidence-building road playoff win.
“Playoff victories, they’re special, each and every one of them,” McCarthy told reporters. “That’s the way you want to play offense. When you get into the playoffs, you don’t have to talk about the regular season no more.”
Other than that double-negative, McCarthy and his Packers provided few negatives worth mentioning. Left tackle J.C. Tretter surrendered a sack and safety to give the Redskins a 2-0 lead, but in his defense he was making his first NFL start at left tackle on the road in the playoffs.
Immediately, the thought flashed: “Oh, brother. Here we go again.”
By the time it was Washington 11, Green Bay 0 (thanks to a great defensive stand after DeSean Jackson’s inexplicable inability to put the football across the goal line) this game had the feel of a season-ending Green Bay loss. Then something amazing happened.
Rodgers began completing passes, mostly because the receivers began catching them, and a running attack was born. The Packers’ 35 points is their most since Week 3, when they beat the Chiefs 38-28 at Lambeau Field. That was the last time the Packers’ offense fairly resembled its old explosive self.
Certainly the Packers’ defense and special teams also played critical roles in the victory. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ unit notched six sacks of Redskins’ QB Kirk Cousins. Mike Neal’s sack and forced fumble set up Green Bay’s touchdown drive to take a 17-11 lead late in the first half.
After Washington responded to open the second half with a nifty touchdown drive, the Packers’ defense dug in. The Redskins never found the end zone again, while the Packers’ offense turned up the heat.
“I’m very pleased with our football team in all three phases,” McCarthy said.
Rodgers completed 21 of 36 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown. That came to Davante Adams to cap the first half. Adams, who left with a knee injury in the third quarter, had four catches for 48 yards and the touchdown on four targets. According to ESPN, Adams’ injury isn’t season-ending and in fact the receiver believes he will play at Arizona.
James Jones caught seven passes for 81 yards including several despite skin-tight coverage.
Furthermore, the running game grew legs behind an offensive line that played its best football of the season. It allowed zero sacks after the first-quarter safety, and controlled the line of scrimmage which enabled the running backs to pound away.
Green Bay ran just nine times in the first half, but rebounded with 23 carries for 124 yards in the second half. Eddie Lacy and James Starks alternated behind John Kuhn in the backfield.
The Packers also used Randall Cobb wide, in the slot and out of the backfield. Cobb produced effective plays from all three spots and appeared to give the Redskins’ defense problems.
Rodgers was asked what he thought of the naysayers who predicted the Packers’ offense couldn’t turn it on.
“We don’t play for (the media),” Rodgers said. “We play for each other. We had a good plan, we played with a lot of passion and we executed really, really well.”
Rodgers said tempo was a key to victory.
“We got the tempo up and they couldn’t keep up,” he told reporters. “We became a snowball, kind of going downhill, and it was tough for us to stop.”
Rodgers said the Packers needed a game like Sunday’s to get back to form.
“I talked a lot the last couple weeks about being able to turn it on and a lot of you probably thought that was lip service. But we just needed a game like this to get our mojo back and get our confidence going. I said this week that it just takes one. It just takes one performance to get us going back in the right direction and believing that we can make a run.”
Rodgers was asked why he believed it possible.
“’Cause we’ve been there, done that,” he replied.
The same can be said of playing Arizona in the desert. The Cardinals defeated the Packers, 38-8, on Dec. 27. Then again, that was then. This is now. The Packers just might shock the NFL world and find themselves planning another rematch, only this time it will be of last year’s NFC Championship game, except in Green Bay.
To those who say it’s not possible, Rodgers says what they say doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Packers have their mojo back, and it comes on good authority.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.