The Green Bay Packers advanced to a Divisional Round matchup with the Arizona Cardinals after both the offense and defense turned in strong performances to lead Green Bay to a 35-18 victory over the NFC East Champion Redskins.
The Packers had been plagued by an inefficient and ineffective offense for most of the season, and things looked to be no different at the beginning of the Wild Card game on Sunday. On the team’s first four possessions, Green Bay had three punts and a safety and had a total of eleven yards after the first quarter.
But fortunately for the Packers, the defense continued to bail out the offense when it failed to move the ball. The Redskins drove down the field and appeared to have scored a touchdown, but wide receiver DeSean Jackson stepped out half a yard too soon. The Packers’ defense took advantage of the miscue and used a goal line stand to limit Washington to a field goal.
Two possessions later, the Redskins were able to extend their lead over Green Bay after quarterback Kirk Cousins hit tight end Jordan Reed for a 24-yard touchdown and an 11-0 lead. Finally, already down by two possessions, the Packers’ offense started to find a groove.
On Green Bay’s first drive of the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers led the team 80 yards in nine plays and hit Randall Cobb for a touchdown to get the Packers on the board. For the first time in a while, the passing game was really clicking as Rodgers hit four different receivers and had just one incomplete pass on the drive.
After the Packers’ first score, the momentum shifted noticeably in favor of Green Bay. On Washington’s ensuing possession, the Redskins were again threatening to score until Mike Neal sacked Cousins, forced a fumble, and recovered the loose ball to give Green Bay another possession. The Packers converted the turnover into a field goal to cut the deficit to 11-10.
Green Bay’s defense continued its strong season by forcing another three-and-out from the Redskins. The Packers’ offense held up its end of the deal by running a perfect two minute offense to score with under thirty seconds left in the half. The drive was catalyzed by Davante Adams, who after struggling throughout the regular season made an acrobatic 20-yard catch to get the Packers in the red zone and then getting open in the end zone to give Green Bay a 17-11 halftime lead.
After Washington regained the lead on its first drive of the second half, capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw by Cousins, the Packers took hold of the game and prevented the Redskins from mounting a comeback.
The passing attack had scored Green Bay’s first two touchdowns of the game, but it was the running game that put the Packers ahead for good. Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 63 yards in the game, recorded 41 of his yards on the team’s first drive of the third quarter, while James Starks scored on a four yard run to give the team a 24-18 lead that they would not relinquish.
Starks ended the game with 53 rushing yards of his own, including 43 on the Packers’ next drive, and Lacy added his own 2-yard scoring run to conclude the possession. A two-point conversion gave Green Bay a 32-18 lead, while Mason Crosby connected on a late field goal to give the Packers a three possession advantage that put the game out of reach.
With a 17-point lead in hand, the Green Bay defense made sure that no miraculous comeback was mounted by the Redskins. Washington had four possessions after the Packers’ last touchdown; the first ended in a punt while the final three all ended with Washington failing to convert on fourth down. Green Bay used offensive and defensive balance to upset the Redskins and advance to the next round of the postseason.
With the win, the Packers will travel to Arizona looking to avenge a 30-point rout at the hands of the Cardinals just a few weeks ago. Green Bay showed significant improvement against the Redskins, especially on offense, but there are still areas that need to be addressed for the Packers to pull the upset next week.
The team had only an average yardage output, tallying 346 on the day. The Packers’ slow start, including managing just 11 yards in the opening quarter, will likely result in a much larger deficit than just 11-0 against the Cardinals. The Packers also continued to struggle on third down, converting just three of their 11 opportunities.
But there were major positives from the offense. Aaron Rodgers and the receivers were clicking from the second quarter to the end of the game, and the running game rushed for 141 yards on the day. The Packers were noticeably better in the red zone as well. A week after converting just one of their four drives that reached the 20 against the Vikings, Green Bay scored touchdowns on four out of five of its tries against Washington.
The offensive line also head up significantly better, even without left tackle David Bakhtiari once again. The unit gave up just one sack, though it resulted in the first quarter safety, and paved the way for a balanced offense. Meanwhile, Green Bay’s defense recorded six sacks on Cousins, including two apiece by Nick Perry and Mike Neal. The Packers added 13 quarterback hits, while Rodgers was hit just twice for the day.
If the Packers can maintain the momentum they seem to have built heading into next week, they will at least stand a chance against the Cardinals. The offense was subpar for almost the entire regular season, but they may be peaking at the right time for the Packers to possibly make a run.
For now, the Packers need to enjoy their victory and prepare for the Cardinals. Most of the media was picking the red-hot Redskins heading into the wild card matchup, and it will likely be the same next week in Arizona. But if Green Bay can perform like it did against Washington, they are capable of pulling an upset to advance to their second straight NFC Championship game.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .