Jared Veldheer goes from stands to spotlight for the Packers

Jimmy Graham’s third-down catches, Preston Smith’s sack propel Green Bay to NFC Championship Game

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Packers T Jared Veldheer

GREEN BAY – Jared Veldheer was watching pregame for the Sunday afternoon game between Houston and Kansas City when the Packers' swing tackle saw the news alert pop up on the screen.

The stomach virus that's been circling through Green Bay's locker room, particularly the offensive line, had collected starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who was now listed as questionable to play in the Packers' NFC Divisional showdown with the Seattle Seahawks

Having battled the virus himself, Veldheer hopped in his car and drove to the stadium to prepare for a possible emergency start. Sure enough, a few hours later, Veldheer was called into action in the biggest game of Green Bay's season.

"I got it through my head pretty quick that I had to be ready for this ballgame," Veldheer said. "So, yeah. Step in and give it all I've got."

Veldheer proved to be up to the task in helping keep the pocket clean for Aaron Rodgers in a 28-23 victory. In many ways, it was similar to what the 6-foot-8, 321-pound tackle did two weeks earlier when Bulaga exited the Packers' regular-season finale against Detroit with a concussion,

While Bulaga was technically active for the game, Veldheer found out definitively he'd be starting roughly "20 minutes" before kickoff. A veteran of 113 NFL regular-season starts, Veldheer slid back in next to right guard Billy Turner and picked up where he left off from the Lions game.

Situations like these are the exact reason Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst claimed Veldheer off waivers from New England in November, which came after the 10th-year veteran announced he wanted to resume his NFL career after a six-month retirement.

Fittingly, Veldheer was in attendance when the Packers opened their season against Chicago – only back then it was as an observer in the stands.

"Jared stepped in and did a great job, he really did," Rodgers said. "I was teasing him in the third quarter during a long TV timeout, I said, 'You were retired this year and here you are starting a playoff game.' And he said, 'Hey, I was at your first game in the stands.' It's funny how life is sometimes. But we're really happy to have him and he's been really good for us."

Veldheer credits the Packers' outside linebackers for hastening his preparation since he arrived in Green Bay less than two months ago. With plenty of NFL postseason experience to fall back on, Veldheer will be ready should another unique opportunity arise.

"You kind of take each week as know that I have to be able to go out there and fill in at any second," Veldheer said. "It could be zero percent of the plays, it could be 100 percent of the plays. Today, it was a hundred percent of the plays, and that just comes with being the swing guy."

Third-and-Graham: Based on what they'd seen on film, the Packers expected Jimmy Graham to be an important piece of the offensive game plan against Seattle.

The veteran tight end turned out to be critical in the Packers going 9-of-14 on third downs, with all three of his catches converting in those situations. His first two – a 13-yarder on third-and-8 in the first quarter and a 27-yarder on third-and-6 in third – keyed eventual touchdown drives.

Meanwhile, the third conversion effectively sealed the victory for Green Bay. Facing third-and-9 after the two-minute warning, Graham extended after a pass from Rodgers to reach the first-down marker.

The play was automatically reviewed twice – including after additional footage was submitted by the league office – but none of the angles were strong enough to change the ruling on the field. The play stood and the Packers kneeled out the victory.

"To do that in a playoff game and to do it against my old team when all the bright lights were on, it's always fun to hear the crowd go crazy," Graham said. "But it's awesome to be able to step up and be there for my guys and be there for my team. I love these guys in here."

Lambeau Field hosted an NFC Divisional playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

Super Sack Bros.: Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith did it again.

The Packers' two marquee free-agent signees set the tone for Green Bay's defense against Seattle, with Za'Darius sacking Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson twice in the first half and Preston getting home twice in the fourth quarter.

Preston's final sack came at a critical time in the game. Trailing by only five points, Seattle had just gotten the ball back and faced a third-and-5 with a little more than three minutes remaining.

Preston managed to beat the tackle around the edge to corral the elusive quarterback and drop him for a 6-yard loss. Back at its own 36, Seattle opted to punt on fourth-and-11 with 2:41 left.

"I really don't focus on the moments, I just focus on making the play that can help benefit the team," Preston said. "I'm glad it was a great moment that I could help the team and put us in a great situation to win the game and execute a victory."

Upon further review: Chandon Sullivan handed the ball to the official and felt like he'd just successfully secured a takeaway on the very first defensive play of the game for Green Bay.

However, officials on the field ruled seconds earlier Jacob Hollister was down before cornerback Jaire Alexander forced the Seahawks' tight end to fumble.

Although a challenge from Head Coach Matt LaFleur confirmed Hollister fumbled the ball, replay review said there wasn't "clear-cut" evidence Sullivan recovered the ball. Seattle was given the ball and a new set of downs after it was ruled an 11-yard completion.

"I saw Jaire (Alexander) force a fumble and immediately tried to go dive on it," Sullivan said. "In my opinion, it was clear cut. I turned to my side and shook off everybody. I ended up giving the ball to the referee. I was celebrating. I thought it was a turnover. I was like, 'OK.' They overturned it. I'm still looking for an explanation on that one but that's how it goes sometimes."

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