GREEN BAY – It took a while, but when the Packers found their groove, there was no stopping them.
Despite five straight punts to open the game, Green Bay exploded offensively and buried the New York Giants, 38-13, in an NFC Wild Card playoff game on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
The victory was the Packers' seventh straight and sends them to top-seeded Dallas for the divisional round next Sunday at 3:40 p.m. CT, though Green Bay could be without star receiver Jordy Nelson, who left in the first half with injured ribs.
Even without his top target, though, Aaron Rodgers still threw four TD passes and posted a sparkling 125.2 passer rating, his sixth rating of 100-plus during the seven-game winning streak.
"In the passing game, I need to do a better job of getting Aaron into some basic throws," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of the sluggish start. "Once we got going, we were excellent."
The Packers scored five touchdowns and a field goal in a span of eight possessions beginning with 3:45 left in the second quarter to pull away from a Giants team that was far more formidable than the one that lost here back in Week 5.
The offensive onslaught included a little bit of everything, nothing more stunning than a 42-yard Hail Mary from Rodgers to Randall Cobb on the final play of the first half.
The Packers had just scrapped their way to a 7-6 lead and were suddenly ahead 14-6 when seemingly nothing had gone right for the first 26-plus minutes of the game.
Rodgers launched the throw from around midfield, and the high rainbow carried over top of the mass of bodies in the north end zone. Cobb was behind everyone and "nudged," to use his word, a defender out of the way to make a falling-down catch just inside the end line.
"You have to have the protection, but to throw that ball with the arc, that's really the key to it," McCarthy said. "It gives your receivers a chance to catch that ball. Randall Cobb made an excellent, instinctive play. A big play, and it gave us something going into halftime."
The Hail Mary was payback five years in the making, as the Giants had closed the first half of the 2011 NFC Divisional playoff at Lambeau Field the same way, stretching a 13-10 lead to 20-10 on their way to a big win.
Cobb made his catch in the same end zone, about 10-15 yards away from where Hakeem Nicks hauled his down for New York.
"I think you can imagine," Rodgers said of how different that first-half ending felt this time. "It's tough being on the other side.
"Mike got me into the flow there at the end of the second quarter, with a touchdown drive, and then did a nice job in the two-minute getting us a chance. We had time and downs to go get some points."
The Packers had grabbed the momentum but needed to seize it back again in the third quarter. After a failed fourth-and-1 run from the Green Bay 42-yard line, two plays later Giants QB Eli Manning hit Tavarres King over the top for a 41-yard TD that brought the Giants within 14-13. The 77,549 in attendance got awfully quiet.
The Packers responded in a heartbeat, though, blistering their way down the field 63 yards in four plays for the score.
Rodgers hit tight end Jared Cook for 13 yards, Davante Adams for 20 yards on a slant, and then Cobb on a similar slant that he turned into a 30-yard TD. Just like that, the Packers were back in control.
"Very important," McCarthy said of the quick answer after the rough sequence that started with the fourth-and-short. "As a play-caller and head coach, you're sick to yourself. You feel totally responsible for the decision, the execution of the play and so forth.
"But there was still a lot of football left."
The defense and special teams more than held up their end. The Packers caught a couple of breaks early, as Giants receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard dropped potential TD passes, forcing New York to settle for two early field goals.
After that, the long pass to King was about all the Giants accomplished. Linebacker Clay Matthews made a heads-up play to recover a fumble he had knocked out of Manning's hand when no one else realized it was a live ball.
That turnover set up Green Bay's final touchdown, and cornerback Damarious Randall intercepted Manning in the end zone in the final minute for good measure.
Manning managed just a 72.1 passer rating (23-of-44, 299 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) with star receiver Beckham held to just four catches for 28 yards on 11 targeted throws.
"The defense really set the tone," McCarthy said. "I thought our special teams were outstanding."
Punter Jake Schum, with the help of gunner Jeff Janis, pinned the Giants inside their own 20 three times; a kickoff miscue by New York returner Bobby Rainey forced another drive to start at the Giants' 3; and Micah Hyde had 50 punt-return yards on five tries, setting up a touchdown and field goal with returns into New York territory.
After directing the offense to just 29 total yards on those first five drives, Rodgers finished 25-of-40 for 362 yards. He threw four TD passes in a playoff game for the second time in his career, the only Packers QB ever to do so.
Cobb (five catches, 116 yards, three TDs) and Adams (8-125-1) both topped 100 yards, with Cobb's three touchdown receptions tying a franchise playoff record held by Sterling Sharpe, which is also an NFL single-game postseason record.
The Packers even got running back Christine Michael going (10 carries, 47 yards), with Ty Montgomery – who left the game with a leg injury but then returned – chipping in 68 yards from scrimmage (27 rushing, 41 receiving).
"That tells you just the way our offense works," McCarthy said, referring to all the production in Nelson's absence. "That's the way we're situated. The next guy has to jump in.
"It takes everybody to win these games."
McCarthy did express "concern" for Nelson, though, and had no update immediately after the game, but the Packers may have to forge ahead in these playoffs without him.
That was the only real downer in a victory that was cathartic for a fan base that had seen Manning and the Giants knock the Packers out of the playoffs at Lambeau twice in the last decade. "Very proud of our football team," McCarthy said. "With that, we're on to Dallas."
Hodkiewicz: Cobb returns with record-setting performance