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Green Bay Packers wake up to record playoff win

By The Sports Xchange   |   Jan. 12, 2016 at 1:00 AM
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GREEN BAY, Wisc. - As if by script, the Green Bay Packers suddenly must be taken seriously again as Super Bowl contenders.

A week after Josh Sitton referenced the 1990s comedy film "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," he and his Green Bay teammates followed through with the Pro Bowl guard's suggestion for a spin-off title.

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"How the Packers Got Their Groove Back, that's what we need to do," Sitton said at the end of the regular season.

The Packers did just that Sunday. Pairing a dependable defense with a resurrected offense, Green Bay carried out a convincing 35-18 road win over the Washington Redskins in the NFC wild-card round of the playoffs.

"Guys know it's playoff football, you've got to step up," wide receiver Davante Adams said.

Adams and the rest of a previously lethargic offense rose up the final three quarters of play at FedExField, erupting for 32 points in five straight possessions as the Packers overcame an early 11-0 deficit.

"That's the way you want to play offense," head coach Mike 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 (the media) 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."

Fresh off their first victory in their third postseason appearance as a No. 5 seed, the Packers won't be home long this week before they get back on the road to head west this time.

They get a rematch with the second-seeded Arizona Cardinals back at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale on Saturday night. That's where the Cardinals hammered Green Bay 38-8 in the penultimate week of the regular season Dec. 27.

"There's not too many times that you have an opportunity to go back and have a redo," McCarthy said. "So, we're looking forward to the opportunity to get back out there."

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who certainly had his groove back against the Redskins, expects "a more competitive game" in the second go-around with the NFC West-champion Cardinals, who had a bye this weekend.

McCarthy went a step further. The veteran coach said Monday that he wound up junking the use of "underdog" in a recent speech to the team because "We're no underdog going to Arizona. ... We're going out there to win, and we expect to win."

As successful of a sequel to Green Bay's smashing playoff debut this season probably will be needed for the Packers to pull off a second-round upset in the desert. The Cardinals have been installed as touchdown favorites against a Green Bay team that limped into the playoffs by losing six of its last 10 games and failed to win a fifth straight NFC North title.

Green Bay, which tallied a cumulative 21 points as it lost its final two games of the regular season, picked apart a porous Redskins defense for the Packers' highest points total in 3 1/2 months. They last scored as many as 35 points in Week 3, a 38-28 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

"It's huge for us; it really is," said Rodgers, who threw for two touchdowns after going only 1-of-8 passing for 11 yards in the first quarter Sunday. "I talked a lot the last couple weeks about being able to turn it on, and a lot of you (in the media) 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 (past) 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" in the playoffs.

REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS

--PASSING OFFENSE: B. Other than the passer rating staying below 100 for the 11th consecutive game and the passing yards falling south of 300 for the eighth straight outing, a revitalized Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay past the first round of the playoffs. Solid pass protection, a lone sack allowed by fill-in left tackle JC Tretter (for a safety) enabled Rodgers to scan the field. A quartet of receivers contributed greatly to Rodgers' production the final three quarters - James Jones (seven catches for 81 yards on 11 targets), Davante Adams (four receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown before he suffered a game-ending knee injury in the third quarter), Randall Cobb (three catches for 38 yards and a touchdown) and even Jared Abbrederis (two receptions for 14 yards and also a two-point catch). Impacted by the wind in two quarters, Rodgers wasn't particularly sharp throwing the football, but finished 21-of-36 for 210 yards and the two touchdowns for an efficiency rating of 93.5, his highest in four games.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: B minus. Past the midway point of the third quarter, the Packers had only 28 yards in 12 rushing attempts, and Cobb was the leading rusher with three carries for 17 yards. Everything changed on a critical fourth-and-1 call at the Washington 45-yard line. Featured back Eddie Lacy, who had only six yards in four carries to that point, followed the blocks of fullback John Kuhn and pulling left guard Josh Sitton on an 11-yard run out to the left side. Lacy promptly received the football from Rodgers on the next snap and rumbled 30 yards in the clear, also out to the left side. Those two huge runs by a previously ineffective Lacy set up fellow halfback James Starks for a 4-yard touchdown run to the right side on the next play. Green Bay regained the lead at 24-18, and the rout was on. Green Bay racked up 141 yards on the ground, its highest output in four games. Lacy and Starks each carried the ball 12 times for an aggregate 116 yards, led by Lacy's 63.

--PASS DEFENSE: B. Stifling pressure in the pocket was more than enough for the Packers to cool off red-hot Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. Green Bay knocked around Cousins at least 13 times with about half of those resulting in sacks with six. Linebackers Mike Neal (two), Nick Perry (two) and Clay Matthews (1 1/2) were in on all of the sacks. Neal's strip-sack with about six minutes left in the first half turned out to be the Packers' only takeaway. Cousins went 29-of-46 for 329 yards and a touchdown, which came on a 24-yard dart to tight end Jordan Reed over the head of defensive back Micah Hyde. Reed was targeted 17 times and finished with nine catches for 120 yards. Green Bay's injury-riddled secondary dropped a few would-be interceptions, but held the Redskins' elite wide receiving trio to 10 catches, 102 yards: DeSean Jackson (two catches for 17 yards on five targets), Jamison Crowder (three receptions for 15 yards on four targets) and Pierre Garcon (five catches for 70 yards in eight targets).

--RUN DEFENSE: B. The touchdown that wasn't by Jackson early in the game preceded back-to-back run stops by Green Bay's defense at the goal line. Rookie inside linebacker Jake Ryan cleaned up on a tackle of Alfred Morris for no gain on first-and-goal from the Packers' 1. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion and Matthews teamed on knocking Morris back for a 1-yard loss on the next snap. The Packers weren't always stout against the run, however. Change-of-pace back Chris Thompson broke free for a 25-yard run on his only carry of the game in the second quarter, right before the forced turnover by Neal. In the second half, Morris had explosive runs of 19 and 12 yards. He finished with 50 yards in 11 carries to lead Washington, which averaged 4.7 yards per rush with 84 yards in 18 attempts.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: B minus. Mason Crosby connected on both of his field goals, from 43 and 29 yards, to extend his playoff streak to 18 makes without a miss, only one short of the NFL record set by David Akers. Crosby's three touchbacks on kickoffs also helped limit Washington's returns. The Redskins averaged a pedestrian 19.2 yards in five runbacks. The Packers' Tim Masthay overcame a 35-yard punt in the game-opening series to post robust averages of 45.3 for gross yards and 44.0 for net yards in four kicks. Crowder's only punt return went for just five yards. Green Bay had a mixed bag on its returns. Hyde averaged 14.5 yards (long of 17) in his two punt runbacks, but an early return was offset by an illegal block from Demetri Goodson. The only kickoff return by Jeff Janis covered just 22 yards.

--COACHING: B. Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy didn't blink after the horrendous start by the offense Sunday. McCarthy wisely decided to put the fate of the game and the rest of Green Bay's season in the hands of Rodgers, and the premier quarterback obliged when put in a favorable up-tempo scheme that put Washington's defense on its heels. A pass-first mentality against primarily a base defense for the Redskins fueled the 17-point surge in the second quarter and then set the Packers up for the sizable gains on the ground when they delivered the knockout in the second half. McCarthy's decision to start the versatile Tretter at left tackle with an injured David Bakhtiari still sidelined paid off despite the early hiccup with the safety. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was on point by dialing up the pressure on Cousins with regularity. After watching Hyde get overmatched by Reed down the field for a good part of the first half, Capers made a worthwhile adjustment of bracketing the big-play tight end the rest of the way. McCarthy erred in taking a sideline suggestion from Rodgers to challenge a Redskins pass completion in the final quarter with the Packers up 17 points.

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