Green Bay gets in gear, eases past Washington

Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins sits after taking a hit against the Packers in the second quarter. Green Bay sacked Cousins six times and forced him to fumble once.
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins sits after taking a hit against the Packers in the second quarter. Green Bay sacked Cousins six times and forced him to fumble once.
Published Jan. 11, 2016

LANDOVER, Md. — For Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers offense, the first quarter of their playoff game Sunday looked similar to the stagnant way their regular season wound down.

Rodgers opened the NFC wild-card game at Washington by going 1-for-8. The Packers' first four drives: Punt, safety, punt, punt. They gained 11 yards heading into the second quarter and trailed by double digits.

Then, spurred by the hurry-up approach he loves, Rodgers played like a two-time NFL MVP.

Rodgers threw for two scores and Eddie Lacy and James Starks each ran for a touchdown as Green Bay came back to overwhelm NFC East champion Washington 35-18.

"We got the tempo up, and they couldn't keep up," said Rodgers, 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 led 11-0.

"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 the media. "But we just needed a game like this to get our mojo back and get our confidence going."

Green Bay (11-6) plays Saturday at No. 2 seed Arizona. It's a rematch of a Week 16 game that the Cardinals dominated 38-8.

"The main thing is everybody just needs to realize the taste they had in their mouth last time," Packers receiver James Jones said.

Green Bay, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Kansas City won over the weekend, marking the first time road teams went 4-0 in the wild-card round in the current playoff format, which started in 1990.

Washington (9-8) had won four in a row but never defeated 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, no matter when it is," Jay Gruden said after his first playoff game as an NFL head coach. "The opportunities we had out there (Sunday) — 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 and ran for another but lost one fumble and was sacked six times.

"They made adjustments and we didn't," Washington nose tackle Terrance Knighton said. "That's why they've won championships — and that's who their quarterback is."

Indeed, Rodgers, the 2011 Super Bowl MVP, turned things around in the second quarter, twice catching Washington with too many men on the field. He went 5-for-6 for 68 yards on a drive that ended with a 12-yard TD pass to Randall Cobb. When he hit Davante Adams for a 10-yard score and a 17-11 halftime lead, Rodgers danced a little jig and threw some fist pumps.

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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 offense. When you get into the playoffs, you don't have to talk about the regular season no more," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.