They jumped out to an early lead, then held on for dear life. This has been the story of many a game for the Green Bay Packers in the 2019 season, and that trend repeated itself once again at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.
With the Seattle Seahawks in town, bringing the spectre of playoff collapse past with them, the Packers did enough to hold on for a 28-23 victory, advancing to the NFC Championship Game next week against the San Francisco 49ers. Green Bay, behind the stellar play of its star players, jumped out to a big lead early, opening up advantages of 21-3 and 28-10 on Seattle before a tired defense allowed the Seahawks to climb back in late.
But a sack by Preston Smith on Russell Wilson on a key third down forced a Seahawks punt, with Seattle facing a fourth-and-11 from their own 36-yard line. With 2:32 left on the clock, the Packers converted a pair of high-pressure third downs of their own, finally allowing Aaron Rodgers to kneel the clock out for the victory.
Rodgers was the architect of those third-down conversions, first hitting Davante Adams on a beautiful 32-yard pass, then finding Jimmy Graham over the middle while under heavy pressure. Graham picked up just enough yardage to cross the line to gain — a ruling on the field that stood after a video review that saw referee Clete Blakeman tell the Lambeau faithful that the officials had “additional footage” that was not available on the TV copy — and three kneel-downs made the clock expire.
For his part, Rodgers had a resurgent game after one of his worst performances in recent memory in week 17. Rodgers completed 16 of his 27 pass attempts, going for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both to Adams. Davante was uncoverable all game long, catching eight of his 11 targets for 160 yards. And Graham came up with some big receptions of his own, catching three passes for 49 yards — all of which moved the chains on third downs.
In the second quarter, it was Aaron Jones doing the heavy lifting, pounding into the end zone for a pair of one-yard touchdown runs, including one just before the end of the first half. Jones’ 62 yards on 21 carries will not stand out on the stat sheet, but that tough running in the red zone has made him a critical piece of the puzzle all season long for this offense.
And the Packers’ defense, which struggled to contain Russell Wilson on the ground during the second half, came up with the big stop when it needed to most of all — with Seattle off to a good-looking drive down by less than a touchdown. After Za’Darius Smith recorded a pair of sacks in the first half, his partner, Preston Smith, picked up two after halftime, including the crucial stop on third down late in the fourth quarter.
Those players stepped up big in crunch time, and Rodgers did the rest. Now it’s on to San Francisco next Sunday evening for a shot at Super Bowl LIV.