As the Green Bay Packers gifted Andy Reid the first home wild-card loss of his career in Philadelphia Sunday, many of the green and gold's faithful also began to believe in a serious Super Bowl run for this Packers ball club.
The 21-17 road victory over Michael Vick and the Eagles proved once again just how valuable a shut-down defense can really be in postseason contention.
As for Dom Capers, well, we'll leave that up to Mike McCarthy himself. "I thought Dom really did a great job of sticking to the plan with the coverage and pressure, particularly there in the red area, with the amount of pressure he was able to bring with the red-zone blitz, keeping them out of the end zone", McCarthy said in his post-game press conference. " They’re an explosive offense, to hold them under 20, we felt very good about that."
Green Bay all-purpose linebacker Clay Matthews recorded Sunday's most impressive sacks raked up by the Capers-led defensive unit, along with three more individual tackles on Philadelphia's offensive unit.
All in all, the Packers should riding their 'high-horse' into Saturday night's matchup in Atlanta after holding the Philadelphia Eagles to just 16 points in four quarters of play—something that has proved to be quite the challenge to opposing defenses this season.
However, Philly's patience and late-game heroics nearly cost Green Bay a victory late in Sunday's matchup. But, as we've come to notice as of late, defense wins championships—and defense was what kept Green Bay in contention on Sunday.
So as the Packers look toward yet another rematch this postseason against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, there are surely a few question marks and things fans need to know before Saturday night's dual in the Georgia Dome.
But before we commence, let's take a look at how the Packers dismantled the Eagles for the second time in one season.
A-Rod Does It Again
However (as I'm sure you've already heard) Sunday was Rodgers' first playoff victory as a professional quarterback, and, fittingly enough, it was earned on the road.
From what we could tell, the Packers were seemingly firing on all cylinders for the first time this season on Sunday, and Aaron Rodgers was the sole focal point of that success... or was he?
It's hard to figure, but Rodgers' 180 yards and three touchdown passes against the Eagles were only the secondary reason for Green Bay's total success on the road.
"Defense played great. They've been carrying us a lot this season," Rodgers said. "We had three touchdowns tonight, it was enough to win."
Although Rodgers may be correct in saying the defense is what saved Green Bay's season, the offense is what put them up early and often Sunday afternoon, and proved to be just enough to squeak out a victory on the road.
Nevertheless, completing 67 percent of his passes to nine different receivers was just too much for Asante Samuel and the aging Philadelphia secondary.
If Rodgers and the Packers can find the ever-elusive stride they've been looking for, Matt Ryan and the Falcons stand no chance. But if things start becoming one-dimensional Saturday night, Green Bay could be looking at a blowout loss themselves.
Green Bay Finally Catches a Break
As simple as this may be to summarize, it also bears the most significant role in the outcome of Sunday afternoon's matchup.
David Akers' two missed field goals (one from 34 yards out) presumably lost Philadelphia from coming away with the victory on Sunday—a guy who is known solely on his big-game field goals nonetheless.
A special teams break was due to come sometime this season, and Sunday was the gifted break Green Bay has needed so dearly.
The green and gold have lost six game this season. However, four of their losses have come to overtime/late-game field goals—officially making the Packers the most unfortunate team remaining in the postseason.
Was Akers the Packers' savior Sunday night? Not entirely.
James Starks a Legitimate Threat?
Let's be honest: Aaron Rodgers is the be-all, end-all most important offensive weapon the Packers attain. But what if I told you James Starks is now the great offensive equalizer Green Bay has been looking for this season?
Achieving his best complete game as a professional running back Sunday (123 yards, 23 attempts), Starks has clearly made his mark on the Packers' offensive game-calling.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers called Starks’ effort perhaps the most important factor in the Packers winning the game—shattering the previous Green Bay rookie record for rushing yards in a playoff game.
Just look at Sunday's box score: Green Bay ran the football 32 individual times, while throwing 27. When was the last time that happened? Not for a while, my friends.
Not only that, but Starks broke open Green Bay's longest rushing attempt of the season, going for 27 yards during the beginning stages of the game—putting the Packers' rushing attack on the map.
But is the ground attack here to stay? Tough call.
Green Bay posted just three games in the regular season in which the running backs combined for at least 100 yards on the ground.
"We had a couple of packages in the game plan today for running the football," McCarthy said. "He established a hot hand early, and I rode it. I’m very proud of him individually."
Should Starks continue his hot-streak into Saturday night's clash with Atlanta, the Packers could very well be looking at an NFC Championship appearance.
Finally... Can the Packers Run the Table?
There's no question how valuable a potent defense is during postseason play—and defeating the once unbeatable Philadelphia Eagles twice in one season makes the case for a possible green and gold Super Bowl in Dallas.
With a newly found run game and a quarterback who is now playing at the MVP-caliber level we've come to expect of him, the sky is the limit for McCarthy and the Packers.
Nevertheless, the Packers will certainly be battle-tested in Atlanta for the second time this improbable season.
A magical season and an improbably journey will be on the line this Saturday night.
This is why we love football.
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