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Game Review: Packers Headed To Playoffs

The playoffs await the Green Bay Packers, and the way this team has played in the second half of 2009, it likes its chances of making a run. The Packers’ 48-10 rout of the Seattle Seahawks coupled with the Carolina Panthers’ surprising 41-9 blowout of the New York Giants clinched an NFC Wild Card berth for Green Bay on Sunday. - More Packers-Seahawks Game Center

The playoffs await the Green Bay Packers, and the way this team has played in the second half of 2009, it likes its chances of making a run.

The Packers' 48-10 rout of the Seattle Seahawks coupled with the Carolina Panthers' surprising 41-9 blowout of the New York Giants clinched an NFC Wild Card berth for Green Bay on Sunday. The postseason security came just one week after a difficult, last-play loss in Pittsburgh and less than two months after an ugly defeat in Tampa Bay led to some soul-searching that turned the Packers' season around.

Green Bay has gone 6-1 since that loss to the Buccaneers, improving to 10-5 after a 4-4 start left open the question as to just where this season was headed.

"I don't think anyone ever blinked," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "We felt that we lost a game at Tampa that we shouldn't have lost. But it happened. So I think anytime you have negative experiences the most important thing is to learn from it, and I think our team did. And just the way they responded from Tampa in the second half of the season illustrates that."

Responding from a gut-wrenching last-second loss to the Steelers last week continued that progress, as a Packers' victory in the home finale was never in doubt. Green Bay posted five rushing touchdowns for the first time in 21 years and intercepted four passes for the third time this season to set off a playoff celebration with the 70,429 in attendance at Lambeau Field.

"I had a sense really going back to the flight back (from Pittsburgh)," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the team's resolve to bounce back right away. "It was a tough loss and devastating to lose on the last play, but it was a different feel from maybe the Tampa loss or the Minnesota loss at home, which were our two previous losses.

"There was an air of confidence about the guys on the way back that as difficult as it was that we were still going in the right direction and were going to get this thing to the playoffs."

The Packers gained control on Sunday in the first half with some big plays on both sides of the ball to take a 24-3 lead at the break.

The defense posted two of its four interceptions in the first half, the first by A.J. Hawk, which he returned 29 yards to the Seattle 35 to end the Seahawks' first drive. That set up a 13-yard TD on a screen pass to Brandon Jackson for a 7-0 lead.

The second pick thwarted Seattle's best drive of the half, as on third down from the Green Bay 8-yard line, Johnny Jolly deflected Matt Hasselbeck's pass and Atari Bigby made a diving interception at the goal line.

Jolly also made a critical tackle on Seattle's next threat, stopping running back Julius Jones for a 3-yard loss on third-and-2 from the Green Bay 7, forcing the Seahawks to settle for a field goal for their only first-half points.

Meanwhile, the offense was a bit erratic at first, but productive nonetheless. After Jackson's early TD, back-to-back completions of 40 and 24 yards to Greg Jennings preceded a 3-yard TD run from Grant in the final half-minute of the first quarter.

Grant (16 carries, 97 yards) then busted off a 56-yard TD run in the second quarter, and the Packers nearly got another touchdown before halftime, when Spencer Havner caught a fourth-and-goal pass from the 1 with 3 seconds left. But Havner was called for offensive pass interference, and Green Bay settled for a 29-yard Mason Crosby field goal on the final play of the half for a 21-point lead.

"We started off three-and-out, which is not what we wanted to do," said Jennings, who finished with four catches for 111 yards, his 14th career 100-yard game. "But then we picked it up, got the ball rolling, and it was like a freight train going downhill. We kept punching the ball in in the red zone, the defense played outstanding, and special teams came up big. We're definitely clicking on all cylinders right now."

It only continued in the second half with two more interceptions, the first of Jarrett Bush's career and the second of Bigby's in the game. Drives of 47 and 62 yards were capped by short TD runs from Jackson, who had never had two touchdowns in a game let alone three.

Then after Rodgers (12-of-23, 237 yards, 1 TD, 103.0 rating) gave way to backup Matt Flynn in the fourth quarter, Crosby was true from long range and Ahman Green added the fifth rushing TD midway through the fourth quarter to make it 48-3.

{sportsad300}There wasn't any drama in the scoreboard watching, either, as the Panthers took a commanding 31-0 lead early in the third quarter over the Giants and cruised. The Packers still don't know whether they'll be the No. 5 or 6 seed in the NFC, as next week's game with Arizona as well as remaining games involving Dallas and Philadelphia will factor into that.

But they know they'll be hitting the road on Wild Card weekend (Jan. 9-10), playing against a division champion, with the immediate goal of earning another road trip to face another division champ the following week.

"As we talk as a football team, our goal of winning the world championship is right in front of us," McCarthy said. "We're going to be a road-warrior mentality as we plan for that."

That's fine with this bunch, which - as McCarthy has pointed out several times - has learned to deal with adversity throughout the season, and those lessons could prove valuable in the coming weeks when it's do-or-die in the playoffs.

"It feels great, it really does," Rodgers said. "I think it's a lot of hard work. The second half of the season we've been really putting it together. Guys are very excited in the locker room, but we realize this is just the beginning for us.

"Anything can happen. We like our chances. We like the way we're playing. We're peaking at the right time. We're 6-1 the second half of the season, and we're excited about the possibilities that await us in that second season."

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