LANDOVER, MARYLAND – For Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Green Bay Packers’ offense, the first quarter of their playoff game Sunday looked quite similar to the stagnant way their regular season wound down.
Not a lot of progress. Not a lot of points. Not a lot of fun.
Rodgers opened the NFC wild-card game against the Washington Redskins by going 1-for-8, and the Packers’ first four drives went: punt, safety, punt, punt. They gained all of 11 yards heading into the second quarter.
And then, spurred by using the hurry-up approach he loves, Rodgers played like a two-time NFL MVP. Drawing defensive penalties with quick snaps, making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and running the show the way few QBs can, Rodgers threw for a pair of TDs while Eddie Lacy and James Starks each ran for a score, and Green Bay came back to overwhelm the NFC East champion Redskins 35-18.
“We got the tempo up, and they couldn’t keep up,” said Rodgers, who finished 21-for-36 for 210 yards and no turnovers. “We became a snowball, kind of going downhill, and it was tough for us to stop.”
That was missing while the Packers were losing their final two games and six of their last 10. And it was missing early Sunday, when Washington grabbed an 11-0 lead.
“I talked a lot the last couple weeks about being able to turn it on, and a lot of you probably thought that was lip service,” Rodgers told reporters. “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.”
Green Bay (11-6) will play at the No. 2 seed Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night. It’s a rematch of a Week 16 game that Arizona dominated 38-8.
“The main thing is everybody just needs to realize the taste they had in their mouth last time,” Packers receiver James Jones said.
With the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks joining the AFC’s Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, it’s the first time road teams went 4-0 in the wild-card round under the current NFL playoff format, which started in 1990.
“I mean, it’s a little sick feeling any time you lose a game at the end of the year, no matter when it is,” Washington’s Jay Gruden said after his first playoff game as an NFL head coach. “The opportunities we had out there today — it makes you ill.”
His quarterback, Kirk Cousins, made his first playoff start after a breakthrough season and was 29-for-46 for 329 yards. He threw for one touchdown, ran for another, lost one fumble and was sacked six times.
Rodgers smirked when asked about chatter in the Washington area about which QB folks would want for the next five years.
“We don’t really care about any of the expectations, whether talking about picking Kirk over myself or talking about how everybody expected us to lose this game,” Rodgers said. “We don’t care about those opinions out there.”