Aaron Rodgers leads Packers in bombardment of Falcons


Packers 48, Falcons 21

Paul Newberry / Associated Press

Atlanta — As Aaron Rodgers trotted off the field, savoring another playoff win, he was serenaded with chants of “Go, Pack, Go!”

This wasn’t Lambeau Field, but it sure sounded like it.

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Looking very much at home, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, ran for another score and led the Green Bay Packers to their second straight postseason road victory with a stunning 48-21 rout of the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night.

“This just feels so good right now,” said Rodgers, who threw for 366 yards and led Green Bay to the highest-scoring playoff game in its storied history.

The Packers (12-6) will have to win one more on the road to complete their improbable run from sixth seed to the Super Bowl, but nothing looks out of the question the way Rodgers is playing. He’ll lead Green Bay into the NFC championship game at Chicago or Seattle next weekend.

“This probably was my best performance — the stage we were on, the importance of this game,” Rodgers said. “It was a good night.”

He completed 31 of 36 passes and put up more yards than Brett Favre — the guy he replaced in Green Bay — ever threw for in a playoff game. After knocking off Michael Vick and the Eagles in Philadelphia, then dominating Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Atlanta, Rodgers is creating his own legacy in Titletown USA.

Brett who?

Green Bay scored 35 consecutive points, including Tramon Williams’ 70-yard interception return on the final play of the first half that left the Falcons (13-4) and a crowd of more than 69,000 in a state of shock as the teams headed to the locker room.

The Packers could’ve left punter Tim Masthay at home. He was never needed.

“I felt like I was in the zone,” Rodgers said.

Ryan, who beat out Rodgers for a spot in the Pro Bowl, had a miserable night. He also was picked off in the end zone, costing Atlanta another scoring chance early on that might’ve changed the complexion of the game, and lost a fumble attempting a simple sneak. In two career playoff games, Matty Ice is 0-2 with six turnovers and a safety.

“Anytime you’re in the playoffs, you have an opportunity to win it all,” Ryan said. “When that doesn’t happen, it’s frustrating.”

The Falcons went into the playoffs as the NFC’s top-seeded team for only the second time in franchise history. The result was the same as it was during the 1980 season: one and done.

In the locker room afterward, coach Mike Smith tried to make sense of it for his players.

“We will learn from it. That’s the important thing,” he said. “I also told ’em, as bad as they feel right now, remember the whole body of work we put out there this year. We can’t forget that either.”

This game was pretty much over when Rodgers guided the Packers on an 80-yard drive to open the second half, running the last 7 yards for the TD that made it 35-14.

When Rodgers drove the Packers on yet another scoring drive, capped off with a 7-yard pass to John Kuhn late in the third quarter, thousands of red-clad fans headed for the exits, not even bothering to hang around for the final period of a magical season than turned into a green nightmare in the playoffs.

The Falcons simply couldn’t stop Rodgers, who carved up the Atlanta defense on four drives of at least 80 yards.

Time after time, Rodgers ducked a shoulder or pulled off a nifty spin move to get away from a rusher, leaving him grasping at air. Inevitably, he found the open man in what became an increasingly tortured night for the Falcons.

“I had eyes in the back of my head,” Rodgers quipped.

Atlanta’s only defensive stop came on Green Bay’s opening possession, when Stephen Nicholas chased down Greg Jennings from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by Brett Grimes.

The Falcons quickly drove for the opening score, a 12-yard run by Michael Turner. Unfortunately for the home team, it had to give the ball back to Rodgers. And, as everyone soon discovered, there was no stopping No. 12. A 13-play, 81-yard drive evened the score, Rodgers finishing it off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson.

The Falcons’ last gasp, as it turned out, was Eric Weems’ 102-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, the longest scoring play in NFL playoff history.

Rodgers went right back to work, even after the Packers bobbled the next kickoff out of bounds at the 8-yard line. With nearly the entire field in front of him, he guided the Packers 92 yards in 10 plays for Kuhn’s 1-yard plunge that made it 14-all.

Ryan was the first to crack in this quarterback duel. He had the Falcons in scoring position again, but Michael Jenkins slipped on a pass in the end zone, allowing Williams to make an easy interception.

Back to Rodgers, who needed only seven plays to torch the Falcons on an 80-yard drive. The touchdown was a perfectly thrown pass to James Jones along the side of the end zone, allowing the receiver to leap over shorter cornerback Brent Grimes for a 20-yard score with 48 seconds left in the first half.

The Packers had their first lead, 21-14, but it was still a game.

Not for long.

Atlanta hustled into position to try a field goal before halftime, thanks to a pair of pass interference penalties. But Ryan was sacked by Clay Matthews with 10 seconds to go, forcing the Falcons to call their final timeout.

Instead of sending out Matt Bryant to attempt a 53-yard kick, coach Mike Smith wanted to get it a little closer. Bad move. The Packers knew Ryan had to throw it near the sideline to stop the clock, and Williams read the play perfectly.

The cornerback, who sealed the win over the Eagles by intercepting Vick in the end zone, stepped in front of a quick out pass intended for Roddy White and was gone on a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown on the final play of the half.

“I recognized the formation,” Williams said. “I knew they were trying to get into position for a field goal.”

The second half was one long victory lap for the Packers, whose hefty contingent of fans was able to move down right near the edge of the emptying Georgia Dome and cheer on their team.

For the Falcons, nothing but misery.

A long pass completion was overturned with a replay. Ryan fumbled a snap while attempting a sneak on third-and-short. Jenkins lost the ball after a catch, Atlanta’s fourth turnover of the night. Tony Gonzalez hobbled off with a sprained ankle.

Bob Wojnowski: Lions were big winners in Ford Field game


Bob Wojnowski

Detroit— This was strange, in every way. There was Brett Favre, standing on the home sideline at Ford Field, purple all around, the Vikings horn blaring.

And here was the really strange part: Favre wasn’t in uniform.

What began as a nice gesture by the Lions, to let the Vikings move in because their stadium had a hole in the roof, became shaded by a significant twist of drama. Detroit has been home to some bizarre football history, and now it can add this: It’s where Favre’s NFL-record playing streak ended.

It also could be where Favre’s starry (and lately, tedious) story finally ends, because with an injured right shoulder, who knows if he’ll play again. The Giants beat the Vikings 21-3 before 45,910 enthusiastic fans at Ford Field, which pulled off a flawless hosting effort.

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Darn that Favre, huh? He has spent most of his 20-year career beating the Lions, and the one time — one time— he doesn’t play in their stadium, the Lions aren’t the opponent. (Add creepy curse music).

Afterward, Favre sounded like a guy who finally might have seen the end of his career. He wasn’t willing to say it was over, with three games left in a miserable 5-8 season, but clearly, it’s a distinct possibility now that the streak is over.

“I won’t say it was time, but it probably was long overdue — there’s probably a lot of times the streak should’ve ended,” Favre said. “It’s been a great run. I will not hang my head one bit.”

If it ended here, well, quite a few Detroiters will say they were there. Give Detroit football fans and the Lions organization, led by president Tom Lewand, tremendous credit for putting on a great show on short notice. Fans lined up early in the morning for free tickets, and within 60 minutes, nearly 30,000 were gone. The crowd was festive and energetic, and actually seemed inclined to provide a true home-field advantage for the Vikings.

I could argue the Lions have served as accommodating hosts to division rivals for a long time, but that’s just mean. And already outdated. The Lions snapped their 19-game losing streak against NFC North foes the previous day with a 7-3 win over Green Bay, and the party kept right on going.

Favre’s mistake

It was a weird, cool and contemplative scene, the first Monday night game at Ford Field. Some will muster sympathy for Favre, the 41-year-old legend who returned one time too many. His streak of 297 consecutive starts is beyond amazing, launched in 1992.

But frankly, what a horrible mistake this comeback was, and Favre insists his retirement will stick after this season. Too bad it didn’t stick the last time. He helped push out coach Brad Childress and threw a league-high 18 interceptions while battling foot and elbow injuries. Oh, Favre also was involved in a bawdy little controversy for allegedly texting suggestive messages to a female who didn’t happen to be his wife.

It’s probably blessed intervention he sat out Monday night, because the Giants’ defense steamrolled Tarvaris Jackson. Favre said he had no regrets about returning this season, and really no regrets about how the streak ended. He had numbness and tingling in his right hand and simply couldn’t play.

“I think it’d be foolish to even consider playing if you don’t have feeling in five fingers,” Favre said. “I’ll see how I feel this week and go from there.”

Students of coincidental facts will note Lou Gehrig’s then-record streak of 2,130 consecutive major-league games ended in Detroit in 1939. This didn’t have the same somber nobility, although it had a similar cause: The body broke down.

Favre had hoped the extra day of rest, as the Vikings and Giants dodged snowstorms, might allow him to play. But he reportedly sported a golf-ball-sized knot on his right shoulder, the result of a hit the previous week against Buffalo, and it caused the numbness.

The decision to sit ultimately was an easy one for Favre and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who called it a “no-brainer.” It sure didn’t seem to faze the crowd, which added to the atmosphere. The Vikings’ fight song blared, “Vikings” was stenciled in purple in both end zones and the braided, horned Vikings guy was painted at midfield.

Lions good hosts

The Giants dominated, but it didn’t really matter. The crowd unleashed a few “Let’s go Lions!” cheers and helped make this a perfectly solid success. There were worries early in the day, when thousands of fans lined up outside Ford Field. People began to wonder if the free-ticket, general-admission gesture was such a good idea.

But the Lions handled it fine, not a surprise considering the raves for the 2006 Super Bowl here. Lewand said owner William Clay Ford insisted on accessibility for fans, hence the freebies. The Lions had to cut off the giveaway at 30,000 in case a lot of ticket stubs were used from the Lions-Packers game, as was permitted. That precautionary move probably was the only reason Ford Field wasn’t full.

As the game began, Lewand was beaming, and the NFL was lauding the Lions’ effort.

“It’s a great testament to our fans and a great testament to the NFL,” Lewand said. “I’ve talked to both teams and they’re very happy.”

When the gates opened about two hours before the 7:20 p.m. kickoff, fans hustled in and raced to the best seats. Their faces were red from the cold, their anticipation was obvious.

“I can’t run — my feet are frozen!” one guy yelled and laughed at the same time.

It was that kind of night, when emotions got jumbled and team colors got blurred. Detroit fans came for a show and put on a show, as one of the NFL’s longest-running shows ended. One more time, Favre was the spotlight story, written on a rollicking night when things seemed out of place, starting with the old quarterback on the sideline.