GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the 10th time in his Hall of Fame career, Aaron Rodgers propelled the Green Bay Packers to the postseason.
Next week, for the 20th time, he will start a playoff game. For the fifth time, he will start an NFC Championship Game.
For the first time, that game will be played at Lambeau Field. The Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 32-18 on Saturday, getting them one win away from their first Super Bowl in a decade.
“Definitely a little emotional, just thinking about what we went through,” Rodgers said. “It got me emotional with the crowd out there today, I’m just really happy about everything that happened today.”
With the Packers clinging to a 25-18 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Rodgers faked the handoff to Aaron Jones and fired deep to Allen Lazard, who made amends for an earlier drop with a sublime fingertips catch and 58-yard touchdown that sent the crowd of 8,456 into a frenzy. It grew louder moments later when Jaire Alexander foiled a receiver screen on second down, Preston Smith batted down a pass on third down and Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary and Kenny Clark conspired to drop Jared Goff for a sack on fourth down.
At the 2-minute warning, the crowd chanted “MVP.” With a first-and-goal from the 9, Rodgers took a knee three times to run out the clock.
Green Bay will play the winner of Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints at 2 p.m. Sunday. Whoever wins, it will be a battle between quarterbacking legends. That will be especially true if it’s six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, in his first season with the Buccaneers, who makes the trek to Green Bay. The Bucs crushed the Packers in Week 6 in Tampa, Fla., but Green Bay has won seven straight and scored 30-plus points in six of those games. The Packers beat Drew Brees and the Saints in Week 3 in New Orleans.
It was 39 degrees at kickoff on Saturday; it’s supposed to be about 15 degrees colder for next Sunday.
The Packers scored in each of their first four possessions to take a 19-10 lead at halftime. That point total was more than the league’s top-ranked scoring defense had allowed on average this season. When Aaron Jones started the second half with a 60-yard run and later powered in from the 1, the Packers were up 25-10 and shredding what had been billed as the baddest defense on the planet.
Then, as has happened too many times for coach Matt LaFleur’s liking, the team went into a funk. The Rams pulled within 25-18, then had the ball early in the fourth quarter for the potential tying score. Kenny Clark’s sack put an end to that, and Green Bay took over at its 27 with 9:46 to play. Three minutes later, Lazard was in the end zone and the Packers had all but clinched their first home championship game since Brett Favre and Co. lost to the Giants on a brutally cold night in 2007.
“You come into Lambeau, you’re playing a different brand of football,” receiver Davante Adams said. “It takes you out of your element as far as the way you talk, the way you play. You get rattled, man. It’s tougher to communicate. We got fans in there today, so they had it rocking. Everything was on our side, so it was just about coming out and playing Packer football. We do that and nobody can stop us.”
Green Bay outgained Los Angeles 484-244, providing an emphatic answer to who would win the No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense battle. Rodgers passed for 296 yards, Jones rushed for 99 and Lazard had 96 receiving yards against a defense without the full fury of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who suffered a rib injury last week.
Goff was 21-of-27 passing but for only 174 yards. The Rams had just one play of 20-plus yards and went 2-of-8 on third down as they missed top receiver Cooper Kupp (knee).
“Having the fans there and having all that noise, that helped us out a lot,” Clark said. “It was good to be on third down and get the crowd energizing us so we can get a big stop.”
Green Bay wasted no time in taking control. After deferring on the opening toss, the Packers forced a three-and-out punt and Mason Crosby kicked a 24-yard field goal. After the Rams answered with a field goal, Rodgers and All-Pro Adams struck for a 1-yard touchdown. On third-and-goal, Adams motioned left, then motioned hard right. With All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey chasing, Adams was wide open in the end zone and Rodgers wasted no time throwing a fastball.
After another three-and-out stop, the Packers tacked on another touchdown. On third-and-goal from just outside the 1, Rodgers ad-libbed. With linebacker Leonard Floyd cutting off the bootleg, Rodgers used a pump-fake to get around Floyd, then turned on the jets to beat safety John Johnson to the pylon for the score. Rodgers fired the ball into the stands in celebration. With the crowd chanting “MVP,” Hunter Bradley’s wayward snap resulted in a botched point-after try and kept the score 16-3.
The Rams scored late in the half to pull within 16-10 but Green Bay answered in rapid-fire fashion. A double-move by Adams resulted in a gain of 21 and tight end Robert Tonyan broke free on an extended play for a gain of 33. Crosby’s 39-yard field goal as time expired made it 19-10 – a critical two-score lead with the ball coming out at halftime.