Game Review: On To The NFC Championship

One game away. That’s how far the Packers are from reaching their first Super Bowl in 10 years and their fifth in franchise history after a resounding 42-20 victory over Seattle in an NFC Divisional playoff on Saturday. - More Packers-Seahawks Game Center | Game Photos Packers Playoff Pep Rally: Photos | Video


One game away.

That's how far the Green Bay Packers are from reaching their first Super Bowl in 10 years and their fifth in franchise history after a resounding 42-20 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC Divisional playoff game on a snow-filled Saturday that seemed to define January football at Lambeau Field.

With two-thirds of the NFL's youngest roster playing in its first postseason contest, the Packers showed a level of maturity and level-headedness that belied their youth, rallying from an early 14-0 deficit to absolutely dominate the NFC West champions in front of 72,168 rabid fans, the largest crowd in Lambeau's history.

After a record-setting day -- the team established postseason marks for points and rushing yards (234), while Ryan Grant's 201 yards and three touchdowns on the ground also became new playoff standards -- the Packers (14-3) now advance to next Sunday's NFC Championship. They'll either host the New York Giants or travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, depending on the outcome of the other NFC Divisional game, in the franchise's biggest game in a decade.

"This is an opportunity, and you never know when it comes again," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "The message is seize the moment. Live in the moment and seize it."

Before they could do that Saturday, the Packers had to pick themselves up after a nightmarish start. On a first play from scrimmage eerily reminiscent of the Packers' NFC Divisional playoff game in San Francisco 12 years ago, when Green Bay's Craig Newsome scooped up a 49ers fumble and returned it for a score to begin the game, Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu pounced on a Grant fumble off a short swing pass and ran it back 12 yards to the Green Bay 1-yard line. Shaun Alexander ran in the easy score just 20 seconds in.

Then two plays later, Grant fumbled again near midfield, and the Seahawks drove the other way for an 11-yard touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Bobby Engram. Suddenly, the Packers were in a 14-point hole with just 4 minutes, 1 second elapsed on the clock.

But following the lead of a poised and composed head coach in Mike McCarthy, no one got down, least of all Grant and the other young players who easily could have sensed impending doom.

"We talked about it going in that the game is not going to go perfect," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "Football never does. But you just have to weather the storm for a second, come back and not panic, and that's definitely what we did."

The offense quickly went to work with a 69-yard scoring march, which turned out to be the first of six consecutive touchdown drives that knocked the Seahawks on their heels, if not their keisters. Greg Jennings hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to make it 14-7 midway through the first quarter, and the tide already was turning.

"I'm pretty sure they sensed the momentum was coming back (our way), too," Jennings said. "Just the way we were able to methodically move the ball down the field and move the chains at will, ... they kind of knew what they were in for."

And that was a heavy dose of Grant. Runs of 26 and 15 yards set up a 1-yard plunge that tied the score at 14 late in the first quarter. Grant would go on to rip off three more long runs of 24, 43 and 28 yards in the second half, compiling 201 yards and three TDs on 27 carries.

But before that, the defense made its biggest play to help the Packers take the lead for good. On the opening snap of the second quarter, safety Atari Bigby walloped Seattle tight end Marcus Pollard after a short completion and popped the ball loose. Kampman recovered at the Seattle 18-yard line, setting up a short drive that Favre capped with his second TD toss to Jennings. The 2-yard fade over Jordan Babineaux gave the Packers a 21-14 advantage less than a full quarter after Seattle's two early scores, and Green Bay was only half done.

The turnaround was as dramatic as it was unstoppable, but it all stemmed from the team holding together despite in essence starting a do-or-die game with a 14-point deficit.

"We knew our offense was going to score points," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We all just got together and said, hey, we just have to stop the bleeding. Once we get it stopped, we know we're going to be able to play our game, and that's what happened."

{sportsad300}Seattle managed field goals in the second and third quarters but took 13 minutes, 43 seconds, to score those six points while its defense had no answer for Grant and Favre. The veteran quarterback, who will be playing in his fourth NFC Championship next week, was a deftly efficient 18-of-23 for 173 yards and three TDs, for a 137.6 passer rating, a personal postseason best.

Favre had just two completions on the day longer than 13 yards, repeatedly taking what the defense gave him and not forcing the ball downfield in the snowy conditions.

"Brett was extremely sharp," McCarthy said. "He did a great job of keeping us in favorable plays."

And as the game wore on and the snow got heavier, the offensive and defensive lines kept the Packers in control of the action.

While Grant kept plowing ahead, Favre was rarely under pressure, and veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher pitched a shutout against Seattle defensive end Patrick Kerney, who led the NFC with 14 1/2 sacks this season. Not only did Kerney not have a sack, he wasn't even credited with a single tackle.

Meanwhile, the defensive line sacked Hasselbeck twice and held Alexander, who burned the Packers for (coincidentally) 201 rushing yards in snowy Seattle last year, to just 20 yards on nine carries.

"If one guy missed a tackle, we had 11 guys running to the ball," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "We were just playing hard, playing lights-out football."

One more week of it could mean a trip to the Super Bowl. The opportunity is at hand.

"This is why we play," Tauscher said. "We play to put ourselves in these positions, and you want to be able to cash in on them. Today, after the sluggish start, we definitely played our best football."

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