In playoff win, Aaron Rodgers shows the world he can still dominate
Unlike counterpart Russell Wilson, Rodgers didn’t have to make every single play. He merely had to make every important one.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Bears fans have prayed for years that, if their favorite team couldn’t dispatch of Aaron Rodgers, perhaps Father Time could. While age has gained on the Packers quarterback, as it does us all, this year’s team has proven that an offense led by the 36-year-old quarterback doesn’t have to be based around his otherworldly skills. His franchise doubled down on defense and a running game during the offseason, giving Rodgers the margin of error he’d lacked since the Packers last made the playoffs three years ago.
That was the storyline, at least, fed to fans like fried fish on Fridays.
In Sunday night’s 28-23 divisional playoff win against the Seahawks at Lambeau Field, though, Rodgers reminded the world who he was. Unlike counterpart Russell Wilson, Rodgers didn’t have to make every single play. He merely had to make every important one.
And he did.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty,” he said. “What we’ve done is close out games the right way.”
Except it was pretty.
Facing third-and-8 with 2:10 left and a five-point lead, Rodgers took a snap from his own 22. He looked right and threw a heat-seeking pass to receiver Davante Adams, who ran a corner route from the right slot. Rodgers dropped the pass over Ugo Amadi’s head and into Adams’ arms for 32 yards. It was a throw only Rodgers could make.
One yard, two plays and 12 seconds later, Rodgers found tight end Jimmy Graham on a crossing route on third-and-9. The former Seahawk stumbled to the line to gain — barely — and the Packers ran the clock out.
Sunday in San Francisco, they’ll try to become the first NFC North team to reach the Super Bowl since their own franchise won it all nine years ago.
That’s a depressing thought for Bears fans who were already having a miserable day watching the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson — whom the Bears both ignored to trade up for Mitch Trubsky — duel in the AFC divisional playoff. Later that afternoon, former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, a candidate for the Bears’ vacant offensive coordinator job, reportedly agreed to the same role with the Broncos.
The nightcap featured Rodgers completing 16-of-27 passes for 243 yards, two scores and a 113.7 passer rating. It was a performance he could replicate for the next five years.
Rodgers credited “a little bit of intuition” for the connection with Adams, who caught eight passes for 160 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter. One of only two pass-catchers in the route, Adams ran a post corner from the left side. Rodgers’ throw was high, but it forced Adams to slow down at the 19-yard line once he caught the ball. He cut inside, sprinted past Tre Flowers, untouched, for a touchdown.
“It stopped him enough to go, but it wasn’t a great throw,” Rodgers said.
The Packers led 21-3 at halftime — thanks to two Aaron Jones 1-yard touchdown runs and Adams’ first touchdown catch, a 20-yarder — but saw the Seahawks rally with three second-half touchdowns.
“The way their offense was moving the ball,” Rodgers said, “I knew I’d have to make some plays.”
The Packers defense made only one stop in the second half. Up five with about three minutes to play, the Packers’ Preston Smith sacked Wilson — who went 21-for-31 for 277 yards and a 106.5 passer rating — on third-and-5.
The Seahawks punted but never got the ball back.
The Packers didn’t look like a 13-3 team all year, down to the final game of the season — a win they eked out against the Lions. Rodgers acknowledged as much.
“I don’t know that even our fans felt supremely confident in us,” he said.
By the end of the game, they were. That was because of Rodgers.
That should unnerve every other team in the NFC North.