The first quarter of this game had an all too familiar feel to it: offensive line can’t protect Aaron Rodgers, the offense is unable to convert 3rd downs, and an early double-digit deficit. Fans have read this script before and it had the makings of an early playoff exit for a Packers team with such high expectations at the start of the season.
Suddenly, the tide (or wind) turned.
After falling into an 11-0 hole in the second quarter, the Packers took control. Green Bay responded with a 35-7 run the rest of the way and ended the Washington Redskins season with authority, 35-18.
“To come in here and get that done was a big challenge,” McCarthy said after the game, relieved. There was a lot of outside concern surrounding the Packers recent struggles and no one is more pleased with the performance than the head coach himself.
As a result, Green Bay will go on the road to face the #2 seed Arizona Cardinals next Saturday at 7:15 CT in the divisional round.
The game started as poorly as McCarthy could have hoped. Four offensive possessions, four disappointing results: punt, safety, punt, punt. On the safety, replacement left tackle J.C. Tretter got beat on the edge and left Rodgers in the arms of Redskins’ Frank Howard. The left tackle position was a big concern after finding out starter David Bakhtiari would not be available for the game and Tretter was not off to a great start.
Washington, luckily, left points on the field and kept Green Bay within much closer striking distance. The ensuring Redskins’ drive appeared as though DeSean Jackson had a surefire touchdown, however the ball did not cross the plane. The Packers defense held three straight goal-to-go downs and forced Washington to kick a field goal. After a Jordan Reed touchdown strike, the extra point hit off the upright making it 11-0 Redskins when the score easily could have been 16-0.
A spark was much needed and Green Bay found their charge. A change in wind direction allowed the offense to put a drive together. The offense was kickstarted by their leader, #12.
“It’s important for him to go out there and ignite us, and he definitely did that today,” McCarthy said of Rodgers.
Rodgers found Cobb on a free play for a 12 yard touchdown, closing the gap 11-7. Naturally, the ball kept rolling. Mike Neal strip-sacked Cousins which set up a Mason Crosby field goal. Davante Adams hauled in a touchdown and, before you know it, the Packers headed into halftime up 17-11. After that, it was all Green Bay.
Washington scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half to regain the lead 18-17, their only points in the final 43:02 of the game. Dom Capers’ defense kept the clamps down and the offense responded with back to back rushing scores by James Starks and Eddie Lacy, bumping their lead to 32-18. Another Crosby field goal put the game in the bag and earned Rodgers his 8th postseason victory of his career.
Offense Finds Its Rhythm
Here’s the million dollar question everyone is wondering: Where has this offense been all year?
“We need a game like this to get our mojo back,” Rodgers said. “We got our confidence going.”
Boy, did they ever. Green Bay hit their stride at the right time, too. Rodgers and his offense knew they needed to keep pace with a Redskins offense who averaged 30 points in their final four game. Once Rodgers got going, the rest of the offense followed suit.
“When you see [Aaron Rodgers] showing that emotion and see how much it means to him, it means a lot to all of us,” wide receiver Randall Cobb exclaimed after the game.
The Packers quarterback shook off a shaky 1-8 start for 11 yards, finishing 20-28 for 199 yards and two touchdowns. The up-tempo offense certainly helped.
Rodgers pushed the pace and took advantage of several offsides and excessive men penalties on Washington, an area no one excels at quite like Rodgers. The receivers made big catches down the field and the run game opened up as a result.
A big key in our preview was the ability for the Packers to expose the porous run defense of the Redskins. Green Bay put the game away by pounding the middle of the field with Lacy and Starks (as well as Cobb) for 124 rushing yards in the second half alone.
Major props go to the Packers’ offensive line. The unit didn’t allow a sack after the safety given up on the second possession of the game and opened big holes for the backs.
Defense Stands Strong, Puts Pressure on Cousins
Green Bay had to win at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and they did just that. Clay Matthews and his pass rush crusade got to Cousins for six sacks resulting in 59 yards lost and a huge fumble that swung momentum in Green Bay’s favor.
The Packers’ defensive unit kept steady and set the tone in the first half when the offense was struggling to move the ball. After Jackson’s touchdown was overturned and the ball was placed at the 1-yard line, the defense could have ceded the 7 points and moved on to the next possession. Rather, they stood strong and kept Washington out of the end zone.
This was a huge mental victory for the team and let everyone know they came to play. They continued their relentless attack in the second half and eventually took the wind out of the Redskins’ sails.
Micah Hyde struggled to cover Jordan Reed for much of the game (as most do), but otherwise dominated outside even while facing injuries with cornerbacks Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, and Quinten Rollins. Cousins finished with a QBR of 31.1, his second lowest of the entire season.
Next: Green Bay Seeks Revenge in Arizona
Two weeks ago Green Bay endured one of their most embarrassing losses in a 30-point rout at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. Next week Green Bay has a chance to redeem themselves.
Let’s start with this: I don’t think it’s possible for Green Bay to play anywhere near as bad as they did in their first matchup against the Cardinals. The offensive line got destroyed by the Cardinals front, giving up a total of nine sacks in the game. Bakhtiari missed the start at left tackle, which left Don Barclay vulnerable for four sacks allowed against Arizona. Getting Bakhtiari back will be a crucial first step heading into the divisional round.
Next, it’s hard to see any team beating Green Bay when they play as sound of a game as they did in the final three quarter against Washington. For the first time in a while, the league saw a confident Packers team. The league saw a well-executed Packers team. The league saw a scary Packers team.
In order to win, however, the Packers will need to be on top of their game for all four quarters.
Arizona presents a tough challenge for any team and the Packers know that as well as anyone. There is little room for error against, in my opinion, possibly the best team in the NFL. A great Wild Card performance is exactly what the green and gold needed to kickstart any chance at a playoff run.
Green Bay knows they have a unique opportunity to right their wrongs from the regular season.
“There’s not too many times you have the opportunity to go back and have a re-do. We’re looking forward to it,” said McCarthy about another shot at Arizona.
Each week in the playoffs is a chance to start with a clean slate and Green Bay expects to do just that next week in the divisional round.
1st Downs – GB 24 / WAS 20
3rd Down Conversions – GB 3-11 / WAS 5-15
Rushing Yards – GB 141 / WAS 84
Red Zone Efficiency – GB 4-5 / WAS 1-4
Sacks – GB 6 / WAS 1