2 Total Updates since January 15, 2011
over 2 years ago Update 0 comments
Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score, as Green Bay pounded Atlanta, 48-21, to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Tramon Williams picked off Matt Ryan twice late in the second quarter, returning one interception 70 yards for a score on the first half's final play, helping the Packers gain a trip to the conference title contest for the second time in four years.
Rodgers was able to escape pressure and completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards as Green Bay set a franchise playoff scoring record. Greg Jennings caught eight passes for 101 yards for the sixth-seeded Packers, who will play on the road next week against either Seattle or Chicago. The Seahawks and Bears meet in Chicago on Sunday in the other NFC divisional playoff matchup.
Atlanta came into Saturday's game as the top seed in the conference after surging to a 13-3 regular season mark. The Falcons were ahead 14-7 after Eric Weems ran a kickoff back a team-record 102 yards for a score in the second quarter, but the Packers responded with five straight TDs to take control.
Williams is quickly becoming a hero of sorts for the Packers. Last week, he picked off Michael Vick in the end zone in the final minute in Green Bay's 21-16 victory in Philadelphia in the opening round of the playoffs. This time around, his 70-yard return gave the Packers a 28-14 cushion.
"Tramon Williams is clearly playing at a Pro Bowl level," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Just to see your big time players step up in the prime time games, that's what it's all about."
Rodgers is also making a name for himself since taking over for future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. He has thrown 10 TD passes over his first three playoff starts, surpassing Hall of Famer Dan Marino, Jeff George and Daryle Lamonica for the most scoring tosses in the first three postseason starts of any quarterback in NFL history.
"I got into a rhythm not only throwing the football, but moving around the pocket," Rodgers said. "It was a special night."
Ryan connected on 20-of-29 passes and one TD, but the Falcons turned the ball over four times after having just 17 giveaways the entire season. Michael Turner gained only 39 yards on the ground and had a TD run, but the downfall for the Falcons was their defense as the Packers converted 8-of-12 third down opportunities and held a 442-194 total yardage advantage.
"It was a tough night for our football team. We had way too many mistakes and ran into a hot quarterback playing at a high level," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We obviously had a real hard time stopping them. Their offense did a very good job."
Green Bay, which lost to the Giants in its most recent trip to the NFC Championship Game, hasn't been to the Super Bowl since the 1997 season when the Packers lost the Denver. The Packers are just one step away from a trip to Arlington.
Ryan, who threw only nine interceptions during the regular season, was victimized by two pick offs, both from Williams in the final 2:20 of the half. Facing a 3rd-and-21 from the 26, Ryan's pass fluttered to the end zone. Michael Jenkins was the intended target, but he slipped to the ground, allowing Williams to come up with the ball.
Rodgers then engineered an 80-yard drive for the go-ahead score, finishing it with a 20-yard toss to James Jones, who made a leaping grab all while fending off cornerback Brent Grimes. That gave the Packers a 21-14 edge with 42 seconds remaining.
Two pass interference penalties by Green Bay then allowed the Falcons to advance the ball to the Green Bay 26, but Ryan was sacked and then the third- year pro made a crucial error. Ryan rolled to his left and threw to the sideline for Roddy White, but Williams read the pattern and made the interception before rumbling to the end zone to close the half and shock the Georgia Dome crowd.
Rodgers led the Packers on a 12-play, 80-yard drive to start the third quarter, ending the march with a seven-yard scramble up the middle and dive into the end zone.
It only got worse for the Falcons, as Michael Koenen punted 21 yards to set up Green Bay at midfield. Rodgers finished that drive with a seven-yard TD strike to John Kuhn with 2:41 left in the quarter.
White caught a six-yard scoring pass from Ryan in the opening minute of the fourth, but the Atlanta QB fumbled the ball away with 11:39 left.
Mason Crosby, who hit the left upright on a missed 50-yard field goal try early in the fourth, made kicks of 43 and 32 yards later in the final quarter.
"I think everyone was disappointed with the outcome tonight," Ryan said. "At this point, with the way we played, I've got to give a lot of credit to Green Bay. They made a ton of really great plays, took advantage of some opportunities we gave them."
The Packers turned the ball over on just their third offensive play of the night. Rodgers, faced with a 3rd-and-13 from the eight, found Jennings over the middle for a 30-yard gain, but linebacker Stephen Nicholas stripped the ball away from behind and it caromed to Grimes.
That gave the Falcons the ball at the Green Bay 48, and the hosts converted the turnover into seven points with Turner shedding tacklers on his 12-yard burst up the middle into the end zone.
The Packers came right back with a 13-play, 81-yard scoring march that ate up nearly eight minutes. Rodgers completed all seven of his passes for 48 yards, the last coming on a six-yard pass to Jordy Nelson with 12:04 left in the second quarter. He caught the ball on the left side of the field, and while being forced out of bounds reached the football to make contact with the pylon for the TD.
The tie score lasted all of 14 seconds as Weems rumbled a Falcons playoff- record 102 yards with the ensuing kickoff return, hitting a wedge up the middle and eluding Crosby near midfield before taking the ball into open field. It was the longest scoring play in NFL postseason history.
Green Bay was forced to start the next drive from its own eight after James Starks muffed the kickoff return, but Rodgers used big yardage passes to Donald Driver and Jones to get the ball deep in Atlanta territory. The Falcons then sacked Rodgers on third down at the nine, but cornerback Christopher Owens was penalized for illegal contact. Two plays after a pass interference call in the end zone, Kuhn powered off right guard for the tying score with 6:06 left in the half.
It was the second meeting of the season for the teams. In Week 12, Matt Bryant connected on a 47-yard field goal with nine seconds left to give the Falcons a 20-17 win at the Georgia Dome.
"Even after the game, we had a tough loss, but we were telling each other we were going to see them again," Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "I think a lot of times when you lose a heartbreaker like that it kind of helps you a bit in the preparation for the next game. If we had won the first game, we would have felt we're going to have to do that again, but by us losing it brought a new focus to us this week, which we determined we weren't going to let this one slip away."
Since the NFL moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, No.1 seeds in the NFC are 18-3 in the divisional playoffs. The NFC's top seed has lost in the divisional round in three of the past four seasons...Starks had 66 yards on 25 carries...Nelson had eight receptions for 79 yards.
over 2 years ago Update 0 comments
Time to break down what to expect in today's NFL Playoff Game between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons.
The Packers and Falcons have faced off twice previously in postseason play, with Green Bay earning a 37-20 home win in a 1995 NFC First Round Playoff and Atlanta stunning the Packers in Wisconsin by a 27-7 score in the opening round of the 2002 NFC Playoffs. That latter game marked the first postseason loss at Lambeau Field in the Packers' history.
Atlanta's three-point decision over the Packers in Week 12 evened the regular- season series between the teams at 12-12. That was Green Bay's first visit to the Georgia Dome since a 33-25 triumph during the 2005 season.
Smith is 1-1 in his career against the Packers, while Green Bay's Mike McCarthy owns the same record versus both Smith and Atlanta. McCarthy improved to 2-2 in the postseason with last weekend's win, while Smith lost his only prior playoff game as a head coach.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Starks (101 rushing yards in the regular season) took pressure off of Rodgers and made McCarthy's plan of running the football a major success last week. The sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Buffalo broke the previous Green Bay rookie record for rushing yards in a playoff game, as Travis Williams had 88 yards against the Los Angeles Rams back on Dec. 23, 1967. Starks' road to glory was a bumpy one, however, as he missed the first 11 games of the season due to a hamstring injury and appeared in just three games prior to Sunday's breakout. Rodgers (3,922 passing yards, 28 TD, 11 INT) did just enough to earn his first playoff win, completing 18-of-27 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns. He was 28-of-42 for 422 yards with four scoring passes and an interception and a lost fumble in last year's 51-45 overtime loss at Arizona in the NFC Wild Card round. Rodgers set an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in his first two playoff starts, and is the first quarterback to throw for that many scoring strikes in a two-game span in the playoffs since New Orleans' Aaron Brooks tossed six from 2000-01. Rodgers can spread the ball around with Jennings (76 receptions, 1,265 yards, 12 TD), who was held to one catch for eight yards against the Eagles, Donald Driver (51 receptions, 4 TD), James Jones (50 receptions, 5 TD), Jordy Nelson and tight end Andrew Quarless all options for Saturday's game.
The Eagles weren't expecting Starks to explode for more than 100 yards rushing last weekend, so it's very important for Atlanta defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder to make sure his front line and linebackers are aware of the possibility of another breakout performance. That being said, the Falcons must also apply pressure up front on Rodgers, who can light it up at any time. Abraham (41 tackles, 13 sacks) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (27 tackles, 4 sacks) are Van Gorder's best pass rushers and defensive end Biermann (36 tackles, 3 sacks) should see one-on-one matchups with Abraham getting double-teamed and finding max protection on his side. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (118 tackles, 2 sacks) will be calling the schemes and can't get caught off guard. The Falcons were 10th in the league during the regular season with 105.9 rushing yards allowed per game, while ranking 22nd in passing yards surrendered (226.6 ypg). Defensive backs Brent Grimes (87 tackles) and William Moore (71 tackles) finished tied for the team lead in interceptions with five apiece. Getting a few of those on Saturday will make Atlanta's chances of winning even greater. Grimes was first on the team with 23 passes defensed as well. Cornerback Dunta Robinson (55 tackles, INT) and Grimes still figure to have their hands full with Green Bay's solid quartet of wideouts, however.
WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL
If the Falcons played at home every time, they might be Super Bowl champions with ease. They are 20-4 there under Smith and hope the bye week was more than enough to heal and prepare for Green Bay's relentless defense. Turner (1,371 rushing yards, 12 TD) had 110 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in the first meeting, while Ryan (3,705 passing yards, 28 TD, 9 INT) and the Falcons finished 15th in the league with an average of 222.9 passing per game this season. Ryan said this week he started preparing for the Packers right after they won, and complimented Green Bay for its ability to get up front and wreak havoc against opposing quarterbacks. He can only hope he can keep the ball out of the Packers' hands, especially the secondary. Ryan's exploits helped Atlanta capture the NFC's top seed for the first time since 1980, while the Falcons are 3-1 all-time at home in the postseason. Atlanta went 7-1 at the Georgia Dome in the regular season and is 20-2 at home with Ryan under center over the past three years. On top of having home-field advantage, Ryan alluded to how important it will be to get the running game going on Sunday. He enjoys playing in a balanced offense and does his part, as do wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez. White (115 receptions, 1,389 yards, 10 TD) set club records for most receptions and receiving yards in a season, while Gonzalez (70 receptions, 6 TD) was second on the team in catches.
Green Bay came up with several big stops against the Eagles, and cornerback Tramon Williams (57 tackles, 6 INT) sealed the win with an interception of Vick in the closing seconds, after Philadelphia was able to creep back after the Packers grabbed a seemingly-comfortable lead. All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson (92 tackles, 2 INT) recorded a team-high six tackles last weekend and will team up with Williams in hopes of containing the Ryan-to-White connection. White was held to 49 yards on five catches in the first meeting with Green Bay this season, while Gonzalez led the victors with 51 yards and a touchdown on six catches. His score came on a drive after Rodgers fumbled at the goal line. Capers' 3-4 scheme is vulnerable to the run, but didn't have to worry during the Wild Card round since the Eagles abandoned that aspect after falling behind early. Capers has the players to stop Turner, who's one of the best backs in the league. Matthews (60 tackles, 14 sacks) will be counted on to disrupt Atlanta's timing by applying pressure up front, while inside linebackers A.J. Hawk (111 tackles, 3 INT) and Bishop (103 tackles, 3 sacks) will be busy for a Green Bay defense that finished 18th in the NFL with an average of 114.9 rushing yards allowed per game this season. Wynn, Matthews and Bishop each posted a sack in Philadelphia, while defensive end Cullen Jenkins (18 tackles, 7 sacks) returned from a four-game absence last week.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby didn't have to make any field goal attempts last week, but did connect on all three PAT tries. Crosby booted 8-of-10 field goals between 40-49 yards in the regular season and will be playing indoors Saturday night, making his chances of success even greater. Nelson and Sam Shields had 22 and 21 kickoff returns, respectively, during the regular season, but the Packers averaged just 14.7 yards on four kickoff returns in Philadelphia. Starks, Woodson and Shields each had a return. Williams returned a pair of punts for a total of 18 yards last week and had 41 runbacks for 326 yards in the regular season. Punter Tim Masthay posted 43.9 yards per kick in the 16-game regular season and averaged 36.5 yards on four booms against the Eagles.
Falcons kicker Matt Bryant also nailed 8-of-10 tries between 40-49 yards during the regular season and connected on his only try of 50 or more yards. He kicked the second-longest game-winning field goal in NFL history after splitting the uprights on a 62-yarder against Philadelphia in 2006, while then with Tampa Bay. Punter Michael Koenen averaged 40.7 yards on 74 punts this season. Eric Weems is a dangerous return man and had 40 kick runbacks for an average of 27.5 yards. He also posted 12.8 yards on 18 punt returns and scored a touchdown in both areas this season. He had a 102-yard kickoff return for a score at Tampa Bay on Dec.5 and a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown versus Carolina on Jan. 2.
over 2 years ago Update 0 comments
Aaron Rogers and Matt Ryna might be the two best young quarterbacks in the NFL. They'll meet tonight to see which one - Rodgers' Packers or Ryan's Falcons - can make it one step from the Super Bowl.
Atlanta earned home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs and captured its first NFC South title since the 2004 campaign with a 13-3 record in the regular season. After getting a week off to determine who their opponent would be in the second round of the playoffs, the Falcons discovered Green Bay punched its ticket to Georgia after a big win at Philadelphia last weekend.
On top of planning for the Packers, who recorded a 21-16 win over the Eagles during Wild Card weekend, Atlanta has been dodging snowflakes. Several schools, government buildings and roads were closed this week due to the heavy accumulation produced by a winter storm, but it hasn't stopped the Falcons in their preparation.
"Our guys did a great job of carpooling and picking each other up," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "We had all but two [players in]. We actually tried to get two of them picked up but the roads were closed. They weren't letting anyone in."
Sack leader and defensive end John Abraham was able to get rescued after the car he was driving in skidded off the road and into a ditch. Abraham and the driver were fine, and the big defender was picked up by fellow end Kroy Biermann.
Smith is counting on Abraham to spark his defense against one of the top quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers. Abraham had the only sack of Rodgers during a 20-17 victory over the Packers at the Georgia Dome back on Nov. 28 and finished the regular season with a team-high 13.
Abraham, however, is one of the few veterans on this young Falcons squad that's led by third-year quarterback Matt Ryan, who sparked the team to a 7-1 home record this season and is 20-2 all-time under center at the Georgia Dome. Ryan finished the season with a career-high 3,705 yards through the air and 28 touchdowns passes to nine interceptions. He also tied Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the most regular-season wins by a quarterback (33) in his first three years since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Ryan will be making his second playoff appearance and was outdueled by Arizona's Kurt Warner in a 30-24 loss back in 2008. He was 26-of-40 for 199 yards with two touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions in that one. Ryan's a bit older and wiser now, and hopes the experience pays off.
Running back Michael Turner is the other Atlanta weapon hoping to rebound from that last postseason appearance against the Cardinals, as he ran for just 42 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Expect the Falcons to utilize Turner early to set up the pass attack.
Pass defense was Green Bay's calling card in the win over the Eagles. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers probably expected to see a lot more of Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy, who was held to 46 yards on 12 carries, but his main concern, however, was devising a plan to stop elusive quarterback Michael Vick.
On the very first play of the game, Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop blind- sided the left-handed Eagles quarterback for a sack and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive end Jarius Wynn each contributed a sack of their own.
"We've had a few ups and downs on this roller coaster of a year. But hopefully we're peaking at the right time," Matthews stated. "Three wins in a row, all playoff-like environments in which we need to win or else we go home. We've got another one on the road now in a very hostile environment. We feel good about where we're at. You can say we're dangerous, but we're just playing at the level we know how."
It was the Packers' first postseason win on the road since a 23-10 victory at San Francisco in the 1997 NFC Championship Game.
If there was one spot the Packers needed to work on entering last Sunday's showdown, it was the running game. James Starks alleviated those worries, however, by grinding out a franchise rookie playoff-record 123 yards on 23 carries to take the pressure off of Rodgers and give the team some balance. Rodgers was able to win his first career postseason game by completing 18-of-27 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
Green Bay was a nightmare for the Eagles on third down as well, converting 8- of-13 opportunities. It was the team's second-best output on third down this season, behind only an impressive 10-of-15 clip against Dallas back in Week 9.
Rodgers didn't throw any interceptions, but did have one of Green Bay's two lost fumbles. He didn't get the win in the Packers' first meeting with Atlanta this season, but was able to throw for 344 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. His favorite target all season, wide receiver Greg Jennings, led the way with 119 yards on five catches in that contest.
Expect Green Bay to stick with the aerial assault on Saturday, while sprinkling in a mix of Starks and teammate Brandon Jackson out of the backfield.