The Packers, left for dead several weeks ago after a terrible loss to the Lions, are now streaking their way into the NFC Championship game thanks to a 48-21 stomping of the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Playoff. The fantastic team performance was led by Tramon Williams and Aaron Rodgers, who both had great games.
After an auspicious beginning, it was the Packers best team performance of the year. Before the game, it was agreed there was two things Green Bay could not do if they wanted to win this game: commit turnovers and give up big returns in special teams. They did both in the first 20 minutes of the game.
On their first drive, Greg Jennings fumbled after a 30-yard pass completion, and the Falcons were in business. They scored first to go up, 7-0. The Packers responded and went on a long drive and tied it up on Rodgers first touchdown of the game, to Jordy Nelson.
The Falcons struck right back on the ensuing kickoff and returned it 102 yards for a touchdown to retake the lead. But again the Packers responded. After muffing the kickoff out of bounds at the eight-yard line, the Packers drove 92 yards for the tying touchdown.
The Falcons had a drive of their own in return and were in scoring range when Tramon Williams began his big plays. He intercepted Matt Ryan pass in the end zone to give the Packers back the ball. This time the Packers marched down the field in a hurry, going 80 yards in 1:38 to go ahead for good, 21-14.
With only 40 seconds left in the half, the Falcons still moved the ball. Two successive Packer interference penalties gave them a chance to get into scoring range before half time. But then, once again, Williams struck. With 10 seconds left, Ryan attempted a short pass to Roddy White that Williams intercepted, and then, using his punt return skills, he took it the length of the field for a crushing blow to the Falcons as the half ended.
The Packers took the second half kickoff, and Rodgers masterfully led another long time-consuming drive down the field for another score that put the Packers up 35-14. All night Rodgers was able to elude the Falcon rush, extend the play and find open receivers to keep drives moving.
He finished the game 31-36 passing for 366 yards, three passing touchdowns and also added one touchdown rushing. James Starks added 66 yards running and has seemed to cement himself as the starting tailback for the surging Pack.
Rodgers spread the ball around to seven different receivers and Greg Jennings, James Jones, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson all had over 75 yards receiving.
The Packer defense also put in another great game. They held the Falcons to under 200 yards total offense keeping the dangerous Michael Turner down to only 39 yards for game. In addition to the two Williams picks, they also recovered two fumbles. The Falcons had committed only 17 turnovers all season, but coughed up four to the surprising Packer defense.
The final score of 48-21 was a stunning score for the sixth-seeded Packers. The 48 points was their highest playoff total in the teams long history. Though the Packers have lost six games this year, they have never trailed by more than seven points in any game and have never lost by more than four points.
The terrible number of injuries this team has suffered has led to a radically different lineup than the one that started on opening day. But the Packers now appear to be gelling and peaking at just the right time. Four turnovers by the defense, under 200 yards offense given up, together with an amazing offensive performance by Rodgers where the Packers never had to punt in the entire game makes this one their best game of the year by far.
In late September, I posted an article that said the Packers are full of holes. In that article, I indicated that the running backs, special teams, offensive and defensive lines all had some problems.
The running game is still not top notch but does enough to allow Rodgers to operate at the high level he has over the last several weeks.
The offensive line has solidified some, but once again it is Rodgers and his ability to avoid the rush like he did against the Falcons that makes them look even better.
The defense, however, has been simply remarkable. Hit hard with injuries, they have still delivered week after week and have given up the second-least number of points in the NFL this season.
Stars like Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews and soon to be stars like Williams have combined with midseason replacements such as Erik Walden and Howard Green to create a solid force. Only the special teams remain a question mark as they once again gave up a long return.
The Packers will have to win one more game on the road to get to the Super Bowl, but playing at this level, they now appear to be the favorite no matter who they play.