(WLAX/WEUX) Green Bay, Wis – What a difference a season can make.
New head coach, new coaching staff, new system. New draft choices augmented with new blood through free agency.
Packers fans, be honest. Did you really think your team would be in the NFC Championship Game this season?
After surviving a furious Russell Wilson-led comeback in the second half, Green Bay—as it has all season—found a way to pull out another hard-fought close game in an NFC divisional playoff clash with the conference rival Seattle Seahawks, 28-23.
Davante Adams had record-setting day, Aaron Rodgers was precise with several clutch third-down and touchdown passes, and the Packers defense rose up to stop the Seahawks on their final drive with Preston Smith’s sack of the ever-elusive Wilson to force a punt with
Rookie head coach Matt LaFleur’s 14-3 team now advances to the NFC Championship Game to again face the 49ers, who physically dominated and dismantled Green Bay, 37-8, at Levi Stadium on November 24.
The NFC title game will be televised exclusively in Western Wisconsin by FOX 25/48 at 5:40p Sunday.
A relieved and happy LaFleur summed it up well in the opening statement of his press conference.
“Well, all I can say is that was pretty indicative of our entire season right there with another game going down to the wire,” he said. “So proud of our guys and just the way they battle and play for each other. It’s a resilient group.”
They certainly are, and needed resolve to pull out a game that appeared on the verge of becoming a route in the first half.
Green Bay started fast in front of a frenzied sell-out crowd waving Packers towels, scoring on its first possession as Rodgers hit a wide-open Adams with a 20-yard touchdown pass. Seattle answered with a 45-yard field goal to close within 7-3 after one quarter.
The Packers owned the second quarter, opening up a 21-3 cushion at halftime on two Aaron Jones 1-yard touchdown runs. But that cushion would not last, as Seattle put the game into the hands of its All-Pro quarterback in the second half.
Wilson was magnificent, throwing on the run, creating opportunities from seemingly hopeless situations, and gashing the Packers defense on the ground.
The teams traded touchdowns to open the half, as Rodgers hit Adams with an underthrown ball that Adams deftly cut back on to outrace two defenders to the end zone for a 28-10 lead.
That lead was far from safe with Wilson, who directed a 12-play, 84-yard drive and finished it with a 7-yard touchdown strike to Tyler Lockett in the corner of the end zone with 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The home crowd was silenced and stirring in their seats six minutes later after Wilson directed a 9-play, 79-yard scoring drive that was capped with Marshawn Lynch’s 1-yard plunge.
Packers 28, Seahawks 23 with 9:33 left in the game.
Seattle elected to go for the 2-point conversion and cornerback Jaire Alexander tackled Wilson to thwart the attempt.
“At half, I thought we were going to come back and pull this one out,” said Seahawks tight end Luke Wilson. Receiver David Moore said Seattle was trying to take the Packers corners and safeties deep to clear the field for Wilson to “make the magic happen—that’s is what he does.”
Rodgers had a little magic in him too after Smith’s sack of Wilson and ensuing punt.
The 36-year-old quarterback made two clutch third-down throws on Green Bay’s clocking draining, game-winning final drive, hitting Adams with a perfect throw over the top for a 32-yard gain on 3rd-and-8 and a 9-yard pass to Jimmy Graham in the final two minutes.
Rodgers knelt down three times in victory formation to run out the clock.
Rodgers told the media he would again enjoy a “scotch” tonight to celebrate earning a trip to the NFC title game and a rematch with the 49ers.
“It’s the character of the football team,” he said. “I think we’ve had some ugly wins this year, but a lot of them have involve some moments of adversity that we’ve pushed though. . . we need a stop on defense, Preston came up with a sack. We need a couple big third downs and we made it happen.”
In the season finale at Lambeau Field, Rodgers took a slow victory walk to the team tunnel and acknowledged the fans. Adams was the last player to walk off the field and disappear into the tunnel, soaking up the last of the fans’ applause for a record-setting playoff performance Sunday night: 8 receptions, 160 yards, and two touchdowns.
The yardage total broke the team playoff record held by Jermichael Finley (159 vs. Arizona, 2009 postseason). The chemistry and trust between Adams and quarterback Aaron Rodgers resulted in several big plays in crucial situations, from their first quarter 20-yard touchdown pass to their final 32-yard connection on 3rd-down-and-eight from the Green Bay 32 on the Packers’ final drive.
Smith had a monster game and pressured quarterback Russell Wilson throughout the contest. He recorded four quarterback hits and two sacks. He made the defensive play of the game, sacking Wilson for a 6-yard loss on third down with 3:22 remaining to force a Seattle punt.
Alexander was also a defensive standout, matching up with the Seahawks DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett throughout the game while also vigilant of the Wilson’s ability to bolt the pocket. He recorded nine total tackles and one pass defended, a forced fumble, and sacked Wilson to thwart a 2-point conversion attempt.
On to the West Coast, and a highly anticipated rematch with top-seeded San Francisco.