Behind virtuoso performances from Aaron Rodgers and Tramon Williams, the Green Bay Packers stunned the host Atlanta Falcons 48-21 in Saturday night's NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome.
By avenging a last-second loss to Atlanta on Nov. 28, the Packers advanced to next weekend's title game. They will play at the winner of Sunday's game between the Seahawks and Bears at Chicago.
Rodgers led the Packers to five consecutive touchdown drives covering 81, 92, 80, 80 and 50 yards, and Williams made two huge plays for a defense that finished with four takeaways. Rodgers finished a stunning 31-of-36 for 366 yards with three touchdown passes, one touchdown run and a passer rating of 136.8, bringing his three-game postseason ledger to 10 touchdowns and one interception.
The Packers, who overcame adversity all season just to get into the postseason, overcame plenty of it in the first 18 minutes to win their fourth consecutive game. A first-drive fumble by Greg Jennings set up the Falcons with one touchdown. When Green Bay retaliated with a touchdown, Eric Weems returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards to put the Falcons on top 14-7.
But the Packers had all the answers. After Atlanta's first touchdown, Green Bay marched 81 yards, capped by Rodgers' 6-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson. After Weems' return, John Kuhn plunged in from 1-yard behind nose tackle B.J. Raji, fullback Quinn Johnson and extra tackle T.J. Lang. That 92-yard drive made it 14-14 with 6:06 left in the half.
That's when Williams took over. With Atlanta driving, Charles Woodson's sack set up third-and-21. Michael Jenkins had Williams beat but Williams showed remarkable recovery speed and seemingly hit his head on the dome's roof in making an end zone interception.
With 2:22 on the clock, Rodgers sped the Packers downfield for the go-ahead touchdown. Rodgers hit Jennings and Driver for 20-yard gains before James Jones made a spectacular 20-yard touchdown catch against Brent Grimes with 42 seconds remaining in the half.
The Falcons got into position for at least a field goal, thanks to pass interference calls on Sam Shields (23 yards) and Williams (12) but Clay Matthews blew through for a sack, a 9-yard loss back to the 35. The Falcons called their final timeout with 10 seconds to go and tried to get closer to a field goal. Ryan rolled to his left and tried to hit Roddy White at the sideline. Instead, Williams caught the ball in full stride, and 70 yards later and nothing but zeroes on the clock, the Packers had a 28-14 lead.
The Packers got the ball after intermission and Rodgers put together his fourth consecutive touchdown drive of at least 80 yards, capped by his 7-yard scramble that made it 35-14. Rodgers' third touchdown pass, a 7-yarder to Kuhn, made it 42-14 with 2:41 to go in the third quarter.
Tramon Williams generally lines up on the defense's left side, but with the Falcons in position to kick a field goal to pull within 21-17 at halftime, Williams followed Roddy White to the other side of the field. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan rolled to his left and tried to hit White at the sideline. Instead, Williams grabbed his third interception of the postseason, racing the other way for a 70-yard touchdown. Just like that, it was 28-14. "That was the play of the game," linebacker A.J. Hawk said.
Aaron Rodgers couldn't have played any better. He completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns. And when Rodgers wasn't firing darts, he was spinning out of sacks to extend plays. One of those came on the Packers' second touchdown drive, when Rodgers avoided a safety blitz and hit James Jones for 34 yards. He also spun out of the grasp of a blitzing linebacker to convert a third-and-13 to help the Packers extend their lead to 35-14.
Four: The number of takeaways by the Packers. In the 20-17 loss to Atlanta on Nov. 28, the Packers didn't have any.
Charles Woodson, on if this team has what it takes to win Super Bowl XLV: "Oh, we have what it takes. Make no mistake about that. It's just about going out and executing. We continue to do that the next couple weeks, we'll be good."
The next opponent
The Packers will play at the winner of Sunday's NFC divisional game between the Seahawks and Bears at Chicago. That game is set for a 2 p.m. (Central) start next Sunday.
The other things you might have missed
— McCarthy mentioned Nick Collins (cramps), Pat Lee (hip), John Kuhn (stinger), Rodgers (cramps) and Sam Shields (wind knocked out of him). So, it's another week in which the Packers didn't suffer any key injuries.
— The inactives: third quarterback Graham Harrell, safety Atari Bigby, running back Dimitri Nance, fullback Korey Hall, cornerback Josh Gordy, linebacker Frank Zombo, center/guard Evan Dietrich-Smith and center/guard Nick McDonald.
— Punters love domes but Tim Masthay never got a chance. For only the sixth time in playoff history, a team did not punt.
— On John Kuhn's touchdown, not only did B.J. Raji line up at fullback but T.J. Lang was in the game as a tight end. The Packers worked on that goal-line package on Thursday as the public relations staff ushered reporters out of the Hutson Center. "Coach McCarthy came to me late in the week and told me we had a package set for me," Raji said. "He just told me, move when the ball is snapped, hit the hole right off the tackle's hip and just (make) a hole for Kuhn, and that's what I did."
— James Starks might have had the best 2.6-yard average in Packers history. He carried 25 times for 66 yards but was just the counterpunch that they lacked in the first game.
— Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson had eight catches apiece and Donald Driver had six grabs. Nelson, Driver and Jones combined to catch all 18 passes thrown their way by Rodgers.
— The defense added five sacks (Clay Matthews had two; Charles Woodson, C.J. Wilson and Raji had the others) and held the Falcons to 194 yards and 3-of-10 on third down.
— Meanwhile, with Green Bay converting 8-of-12 third downs, it won the time of possession battle by more than 16 minutes, with 38:19 to 21:41.
— On Eric Weems' 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Charlie Peprah and Diyral Briggs had a shot at him about the 20-yard line. Peprah said he played it too aggressively, allowing Weems to break into the clear.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.