Just 17 minutes into Sunday’s NFC Wild Card playoff game, here were the two relevant numbers:
— The Washington Redskins had 11 points.
— Only 43 minutes remained in the Green Bay Packers season.
Instead, in a stunning reversal, the Packers posted their biggest road playoff rally in franchise history, blowing away the Redskins 35-18 and setting up a rematch on Saturday at Arizona.
The game could hardly have started worse for the Packers, a team that seemed to need a strong start given their stumbling end to the regular season and the red-hot play of their opponent.
Green Bay’s first four possessions netted a not-so-grand total of 7 yards. Four third-down plays ended in typical fashion for the league’s 28th-ranked third-down attack. Aaron Rodgers’ third-and-9 pass was deflected. A third-and-9 turned into a third-and-13 because of a false start by fill-in left tackle J.C. Tretter, and that became a safety when Tretter allowed an end-zone sack. A third-and-8 failed when Rodgers missed a wide-open Cobb. A third-and-9 was broken up by a defensive back who was playing wide receiver five months ago.
Defensively, whatever momentum was gained by a goal-line stand was lost when the Redskins turned a third-and-10 into a 24-yard touchdown.
“I think there was a time there, down 11-0, where people could have started having that doubt creep in but it didn’t happen,” Rodgers said.
The Packers took the Redskins’ best shot and got knocked down. But showing the heart of a proud and experienced team, they got back up and started swinging.
“I don’t think anybody is ready to go home,” guard T.J. Lang said. “That’s something that during the regular season, we didn’t handle that adversity well. We came into every game thinking we were the better team and, when things didn’t go our way, I think part of us let a little bit of doubt creep in. That’s something that obviously isn’t good. Tonight, we talked about it and all week we knew it was going to be a tough situation. We knew we were going to have to weather a storm but it was going to be how we respond. Obviously, it was our best job of the year of responding from that.”
The comeback was jump-started by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty, which converted a third-and-4 — their first third-down conversion of the game. On the next play, Rodgers had all day and hit James Jones for a gain of 34. Moments later, with another flag for 12 men on the field, Rodgers spun to his left to buy time and fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to Cobb.
“I missed a couple early on but then I got settled in and made some better throws and some good adjustments,” Rodgers said. “I trusted the plan and Mike (McCarthy) was rolling it quickly. The key for us is, when we got some tempo going, got some first downs, we became a snowball kind of going downhill and it was tough for us to stop. They were trying to sub; we caught them with some guys on the field. They didn’t sub and we were still able to make some things happen. The tempo was key for us.”
After four consecutive punts to open the game, the Packers scored on a season-high five consecutive possessions. The fourth of those answered Washington’s go-ahead touchdown and put Green Bay back in front to stay at 24-18. The fifth put the game away at 32-18.
Why the confidence that they could right the ship?
“That we’ve been there, done that,” said Rodgers, who went 20-of-33 for 199 yards with two touchdowns, good for a rating of 97.9, after the opening four possessions.
Remarkably, the team that ranked ninth among the playoff teams in scoring — and the team that ranked at the bottom of the 12-team heap in scoring down the stretch — scored the most points on Wild Card weekend. Whether that can be sustained against Arizona’s defense, which is vastly superior to Washington’s unit and destroyed the Packers a few weeks ago, remains to be seen. But the Packers, for the first time in a long time, were able to sustain offensive success.
“I mean that’s the way you want to play offense,” McCarthy said. “When you get in the playoffs, you don’t have to talk about the regular season anymore. I don’t know if you guys got the memo about that. It’s the way you need to play and we’re going to have to play that way moving forward.”
When the Packers went into Arizona two weeks ago, it was on the heels of a 30-20 win at Oakland in which a dejected Rodgers sounded as if they had lost. Next week, the Packers will be packing momentum.
"It’s huge for us, it really is," Rodgers said. "I talked a lot the last couple weeks about being able to turn it on and a lot of your 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."
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.