Throw the playoff history over the last decade out the window. A popular narrative coming into Sunday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants was Eli Manning’s playoff success at Lambeau Field. And after one listless quarter by the Packers, it looked like history might repeat itself.
Then the real Aaron Rodgers showed up.
The Packers weathered the storm in that ugly first quarter on Sunday, but dominated throughout the final 45 minutes of the game on their way to a playoff victory. The Packers picked up just seven yards in the first quarter, but added over 400 yards after that on their way to a dominating 38-13 win.
Aaron Rodgers led the way with over 350 yards through the air despite an early injury to Jordy Nelson. Randall Cobb and Davante Adams picked up the slack, each going over 100 yards receiving on the day.
After winning their seventh straight game, the Packers will travel to play the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday in the Divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
Here’s how it happened.
The Packers won the coin toss and deferred, going on defense first. Eli Manning moved the ball fairly well, crossing midfield on a couple of short and intermediate throws, but the Packers’ defense stiffened at the 35-yard line and got the benefit of a drop by Odell Beckham Jr., forcing a Giants’ punt that pinned the Packers at their own five.
The Packers couldn’t pick up a first down on their first series, as Rodgers’ deep pass to Jared Cook on third-and-two was underthrown a bit. Landon Collins broke up the pass, and the Packers had to punt as well.
The Giants got a big play on their next drive, as Manning hit Sterling Shepard for a big gain up the right side. Micah Hyde never turned around on the play, which went for 26 yards. After Beckham dropped a likely touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone, Manning found Shepard over the middle for 13, then Hyde broke up a catchable pass for Shepard in the end zone. Instead of putting up a touchdown, the Giants had to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Packers’ offense crossed midfield on the next drive, thanks in part to a pass interference penalty on Janoris Jenkins. They sputtered out, however, and after a sack by Coty Sensabaugh pushed them out of field goal range, Jacob Schum punted for a second time. This one pinned the Giants at their own 11. However, a quick three and out gave the Packers the ball back close to midfield.
They did nothing with it however, as Aaron Rodgers took two sacks and the offense went three-and-out again. The Packers got a pass breakup from Damarious Randall on third down though, and took over just outside the 20. Yet again, they were forced to punt, however. Jordy Nelson dropped a pass along the sideline, bobbling the football before being hit hard in the ribs by Leon Hall. Nelson left the game, and FOX’s Mike Pereira later noted that the hit should have been flagged as illegal for Hall leading with his helmet. Rodgers then nearly connected with Davante Adams on a leaping catch, but Eli Apple got a hand in and broke up the pass to force the punt once again.
Schum hit a dandy of a kick this time, though, pinning the Giants inside their 10. The Giants picked up 51 yards on a big pass up the middle, as Manning hit tight end Will Tye with Blake Martinez in coverage. Tye rumbled up the middle for a big gain to reach field goal range, but the Packers were able to force a field goal once again to keep the Giants to a 6-0 lead.
The Packers got a big kickoff return from Jeff Janis, who took the football to the 45. On the first play, Rodgers hit Jared Cook for 16 yards. However, on a third-and-four at the edge of field goal range, Rodgers took a deep drop, then inexplicably threw the ball away for an obvious intentional grounding penalty that knocked the Packers out of field goal range and leading to yet another punt.
The Packers got a sack from Julius Peppers on the next series, forcing a Giants punt that Micah Hyde returned to the Giants’ 38. On the first play, Rodgers threw a picture-perfect pass to Davante Adams up the right sideline for 31 yards to set up a first and goal. After a 2-yard run by Ty Montgomery, Rodgers danced around in the pocket for about 8 seconds before finding Davante Adams in the back left corner of the end zone to take a 7-6 lead.
Here’s a shot of the throw from behind:
His WR is literally never open and still, touchdown. pic.twitter.com/SjL4BtDAiH— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) January 8, 2017
The Packers then stopped the Giants just after the two minute warning, justifying Mike McCarthy’s use of timeouts late in the half to conserve time for his offense. A punt gave Rodgers the football with 1:38 and no timeouts left in the half.
The early portion of the no-huddle drive was all Ty Montgomery, with carries of 9 and 6 yards. Then Rodgers found Randall Cobb for 15 to midfield before throwing incomplete to Adams. Facing a fourth-and-2 from the Giants’ 42 with just six seconds left, the Packers decided to throw a Hail Mary.
You can see where this is going.
Aaron Rodgers threw the pass to the back line of the end zone, right into Randall Cobb’s waiting arms, giving the Packers a 14-6 lead at the end of the first half.
The Packers received the opening kickoff of the second half, but went three and out quickly and punted away to the Giants. New York picked up a handful of yardage, crossing midfield before being turned back by the Packers’ defense.
The Packers took over after a punt, and got Christine Michael going. The running back picked up 27 yards on four straight carries to start the drive. After Aaron Ripkowski couldn’t pick up a 3rd and 1 from their own 42, Mike McCarthy left the offense on the field on fourth and inches. Ty Montgomery ran off tackle and was stonewalled, as the Packers lost a yard and gave up the football at the 41.
That’s when the momentum flipped. Tavarres King beat Damarious Randall down the middle of the field on second and ten for a 41-yard touchdown, and the Giants got back within a point at 14-13.
Aaron Rodgers wasted no time in taking the momentum back. On three straight plays he hit Jared Cook for 13 yards, Davante Adams for 20, and then Randall Cobb for a 30-yard touchdown to get the 8-point lead back. All three passes went over the middle of the field as the Packers got nice yards after the catch each time on their way to a 21-13 lead.
The defense came up with a huge stop on the next series, which began with Bobby Rainey catching the kickoff and stepping out of bounds at the Giants’ own 3-yard line. The Packers forced a three-and-out, and got the ball at New York’s 37 following a punt and a nice return by Micah Hyde.
On the first play, Rodgers ran a naked bootleg to the left and hit Davante Adams in stride for a gain of 23. The Packers couldn’t find the end zone, but Mason Crosby made it an 11-point margin at 24-13 with a 32-yard field goal, his 21st-straight made field goal in the playoffs.
Two straight passes to Odell Beckham, Jr. fell incomplete on the Giants’ next series - one broken up over the middle and one that he dropped while wide open up the right sideline. Those led to another Giants punt.
The Packers got back to moving the ball on the ensuing series - Rodgers hit Adams for a 10-yard gain, then hit Ty Montgomery on a huge 34-yard gain up the middle. Montgomery got hurt on the very next play, as his right leg got caught underneath linebacker Jonathan Casillas during a one-yard carry. Rodgers found Adams on a third and 9 to get into field goal range, but they wouldn’t need it - he hit Randall Cobb over the middle in the end zone for Cobb’s third score, which gave the Packers a 31-13 lead.
Then, the Claymaker struck. Matthews sprinted off the right edge, beating Ereck Flowers with a speed rush and sacking Eli Manning, stripping the football. Because the ball fell forward, players on both sides thought it was an incomplete pass despite no whistle blowing. Always alert, Matthews chased down the football and recovered it himself, destroying a passive Paul Perkins who was standing around the football to get to it.
Here’s a look at the play:
The Packers put a final exclamation point on the game with a one-yard touchdown run from Aaron Ripkowksi, leading to the final score of 38-13.
Damarious Randall added a late interception in the end zone to preserve the victory.
- Randall Cobb: the Packers receiver bounced back from missing the week 17 game with a career day, catching five passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns.
- Aaron Rodgers: It’s obvious, but Rodgers drives the ship on offense for the Packers. He crossed over the 300-yard mark early in the fourth quarter and threw four touchdown passes on the day. He was sloppy early, but woke up in the second quarter and was money the rest of the way.
- Davante Adams: With Jordy Nelson out early on, Adams stepped up as a big threat from positions all over the field. He lined up in the slot, out wide, and in the backfield, and had over 100 receiving yards to go along with his touchdown catch.
- Clay Matthews: His strip-sack-recovery was one of the plays of the game, and will land on highlight reels for years to come.
The 4th-seeded Packers play the NFC’s 1-seed, the Dallas Cowboys, in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The game will kick off at 4:40 PM Eastern time next Sunday, January 14th.