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Game Review: Bye Secure, Race Tighter

CONVINCING WIN, PLUS HELP, IMPROVES PLAYOFF POSITION ST. LOUIS - Green Bay’s 33-14 victory over the Rams, combined with Seattle’s loss at Carolina, clinched a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. Then a few hours later, Green Bay pulled into a tie with Dallas for the best record in the NFC at 12-2 after the Cowboys fell at home to Philadelphia. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Rams Game Center



ST. LOUIS - While the Packers were taking care of business on Sunday in St. Louis, they were getting some help in other parts of the country.

Now, a little more help could go a heck of a long way.

Green Bay's 33-14 victory over the Rams at an Edward Jones Dome that was roughly half-full of Packers fans, combined with Seattle's loss at Carolina, clinched a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs for the Packers.

Then a few hours later, Green Bay pulled into a tie with Dallas for the best record in the NFC at 12-2 after the Cowboys fell at home to Philadelphia.

That leaves the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs a very real possibility for the Packers, though they'll need to win their last two games over Chicago and Detroit and have either Carolina or Washington beat Dallas in the next two weeks.

The Packers must finish ahead of the Cowboys to get the top seed, because Dallas beat Green Bay back on Nov. 29. If the two teams finish tied, the Cowboys would have the tiebreaker and would host the NFC Championship should they get there.

But the Packers at least know this much - they will be off during the wild-card round the first weekend in January and will be playing a divisional playoff game at home the weekend of Jan. 12-13, and that's an awful good start in terms of making a postseason run.

"It means we're that much closer to the Super Bowl," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "It means we have to play two games to get to the Super Bowl. We get one of those games in Lambeau. It's huge. We would like to have home-field advantage and a first-round bye, but we'll work with this and we'll see what happens with the rest of these games."

All the talk about potentially resting players over the final two weeks will have to wait with the No. 1 seed still in the balance.

The Packers certainly didn't rest on Sunday, as Brett Favre became the NFL's all-time leader in passing yardage and his team dominated the second half with a 16-0 shutout. That allowed the Packers to pull away from the Rams, who despite a 3-10 record coming in were no pushover with the bulldog running of Steven Jackson and a blitz-happy defense.

Jackson rushed 13 times for 103 yards in the first half, becoming just the second 100-yard rusher against the Packers this season, in helping the Rams forge a 14-all tie in the second quarter.

With the help of two long kickoff returns, the Packers had scored two touchdowns on a 1-yard run by Ryan Grant and a 4-yard pass to Donald Lee, but the Rams had countered with scores on a 4-yard pass to Torry Holt and a 46-yard run by Jackson.

After Mason Crosby kicked the first of his four field goals to put the Packers ahead 17-14, the defensive turnaround began with two Atari Bigby interceptions.

The first came in the final minute of the half, with the Rams driving for the potential tying or go-ahead score. Marc Bulger's pass over the middle bounced off the hands of an open Drew Bennett and into Bigby's, preserving the three-point lead.

Bigby then snagged another deflected ball thrown to Holt, who was covered tightly by Barnett, early in the third quarter to set up a booming 50-yard field goal by Crosby to make it 20-14.

"It's just running to the ball," Bigby said of the fortuitous bounces. "And if it does pop up, be there."

The defense fed off the big plays and began clamping down on Jackson, who had 11 carries for just 40 yards in the second half.

"They found a couple things with the alignment we were playing, so we just adjusted," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "Give the coaches credit. We stopped the bleeding right away after that and realized what they were trying to do and just adjusted, and from that point on it went back in our favor."

{sportsad300}The Packers also shored up their fundamentals on defense. Jackson bulled his way to 5 yards or more seven times in the first half, but after the first carry of the second half, he got 5 yards on only one other attempt.

"The guy was running through tackles, and a guy like that, you have to wrap him up," defensive tackle Corey Williams said. "You can't arm-tackle him. He's big, he's strong, he's powerful, and I think we did a better job coming out in the second half and doing that, wrapping up."

The Green Bay offense then went about wrapping up the game by continuing to counter the Rams' multiple blitzes with spread formations and quick throws.

The backbreaker came midway through the third quarter, when a coverage miscue left Greg Jennings all alone behind the defense. Favre lofted the ball high in the air and Jennings made the easy catch for a 44-yard touchdown and a 27-14 lead.

"The guy who was supposed to be guarding me jumped the underneath route, for whatever reason," said Jennings, who has a team-leading 12 touchdowns on the season. "I almost wanted to fair-catch it just to make sure I didn't get blasted. But it was one of those plays where obviously they busted a coverage, and we made them pay for it."

Now the Packers are hoping to make the Cowboys pay for their late-season struggles, which have included a near-loss in Detroit last week. Not that the Packers have shown any tendency to let their minds wander from the task at hand, but the fact that they're now tied with Dallas makes that even less likely.

"We're all about improving," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "I think our head coach stresses that a lot. It's hard to lose focus when we're not at our goal. Our goal is to get to the Super Bowl and win it. We're not there yet, so we realize we have a lot of areas we have to get better if we want to do that. That's our focus, that's our drive every week."

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