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Rodgers re­cov­ers from a poor start to lead Green Bay to se­cond round of play­offs

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - BY HOWARD FEN­DRICH

Pack­ers, Sea­hawks, Steel­ers, Chiefs live to see an­other week.

For Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Green Bay Pack­ers’ of­fence, 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 11 yards head­ing into the se­cond pe­riod and trailed by dou­ble dig­its.

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 af­ter a 6-0 start, let­ting the NFC North ti­tle slip away. 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.

In the other NFC game next week­end, the No. 1 seed Carolina Pan­thers will host the wild­card Seat­tle Sea­hawks on Sun­day.

With the Pack­ers and 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.

Wash­ing­ton (9-8) had won four games in a row, but its sea­son ends with­out a sin­gle vic­tory over a team that fin­ished with a win­ning record.

“I mean, it’s a lit­tle sick feel­ing any time you lose a game at the end of the year, not 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.”

In the se­cond half, the run­ning game took over. Af­ter 17 yards at half­time, the Pack­ers fin­ished with 141 yards on 32 car­ries.

“That’s the way you want to play of­fence. When you get into play­offs, you don’t have to talk about the reg­u­lar sea­son no more,” Pack­ers coach Mike McCarthy said.

AP PHOTO

Green Bay Pack­ers run­ning back James Starks, cen­tre, car­ries the ball into the end zone for a touch­down as Wash­ing­ton Red­skins cor­ner­back Will Black­mon watches dur­ing the NFL wild card play­off game on Sun­day.

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