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(Saturday, January 15th)
Final Score: Green Bay 48, Atlanta 21
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score, as Green Bay pounded Atlanta, 48-21, to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Tramon Williams picked off Matt Ryan twice late in the second quarter, returning one interception 70 yards for a score on the first half's final play, helping the Packers gain a trip to the conference title contest for the second time in four years.
Rodgers was able to escape pressure and completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards as Green Bay set a franchise playoff scoring record. Greg Jennings caught eight passes for 101 yards for the sixth-seeded Packers, who will play on the road next week against either Seattle or Chicago. The Seahawks and Bears meet in Chicago on Sunday in the other NFC divisional playoff matchup.
Atlanta came into Saturday's game as the top seed in the conference after surging to a 13-3 regular season mark. The Falcons were ahead 14-7 after Eric Weems ran a kickoff back a team-record 102 yards for a score in the second quarter, but the Packers responded with five straight TDs to take control.
Williams is quickly becoming a hero of sorts for the Packers. Last week, he picked off Michael Vick in the end zone in the final minute in Green Bay's 21-16 victory in Philadelphia in the opening round of the playoffs. This time around, his 70-yard return gave the Packers a 28-14 cushion.
"Tramon Williams is clearly playing at a Pro Bowl level," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Just to see your big time players step up in the prime time games, that's what it's all about."
Rodgers is also making a name for himself since taking over for future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. He has thrown 10 TD passes over his first three playoff starts, surpassing Hall of Famer Dan Marino, Jeff George and Daryle Lamonica for the most scoring tosses in the first three postseason starts of any quarterback in NFL history.
"I got into a rhythm not only throwing the football, but moving around the pocket," Rodgers said. "It was a special night."
Ryan connected on 20-of-29 passes and one TD, but the Falcons turned the ball over four times after having just 17 giveaways the entire season. Michael Turner gained only 39 yards on the ground and had a TD run, but the downfall for the Falcons was their defense as the Packers converted 8-of-12 third down opportunities and held a 442-194 total yardage advantage.
"It was a tough night for our football team. We had way too many mistakes and ran into a hot quarterback playing at a high level," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We obviously had a real hard time stopping them. Their offense did a very good job."
Green Bay, which lost to the Giants in its most recent trip to the NFC Championship Game, hasn't been to the Super Bowl since the 1997 season when the Packers lost to Denver. The Packers are just one step away from a trip to Arlington.
Ryan, who threw only nine interceptions during the regular season, was victimized by two pickoffs, both from Williams in the final 2:20 of the half. Facing a 3rd-and-21 from the 26, Ryan's pass fluttered to the end zone. Michael Jenkins was the intended target, but he slipped to the ground, allowing Williams to come up with the ball.
Rodgers then engineered an 80-yard drive for the go-ahead score, finishing it with a 20-yard toss to James Jones, who made a leaping grab all while fending off cornerback Brent Grimes. That gave the Packers a 21-14 edge with 42 seconds remaining.
Two pass interference penalties by Green Bay then allowed the Falcons to advance the ball to the Green Bay 26, but Ryan was sacked and then the third- year pro made a crucial error. Ryan rolled to his left and threw to the sideline for Roddy White, but Williams read the pattern and made the interception before rumbling to the end zone to close the half and shock the Georgia Dome crowd.
Rodgers led the Packers on a 12-play, 80-yard drive to start the third quarter, ending the march with a seven-yard scramble up the middle and dive into the end zone.
It only got worse for the Falcons, as Michael Koenen punted 21 yards to set up Green Bay at midfield. Rodgers finished that drive with a seven-yard TD strike to John Kuhn with 2:41 left in the quarter.
White caught a six-yard scoring pass from Ryan in the opening minute of the fourth, but the Atlanta QB fumbled the ball away with 11:39 left.
Mason Crosby, who hit the left upright on a missed 50-yard field goal try early in the fourth, made kicks of 43 and 32 yards later in the final quarter.
"I think everyone was disappointed with the outcome tonight," Ryan said. "At this point, with the way we played, I've got to give a lot of credit to Green Bay. They made a ton of really great plays, took advantage of some opportunities we gave them."
The Packers turned the ball over on just their third offensive play of the night. Rodgers, faced with a 3rd-and-13 from the eight, found Jennings over the middle for a 30-yard gain, but linebacker Stephen Nicholas stripped the ball away from behind and it caromed to Grimes.
That gave the Falcons the ball at the Green Bay 48, and the hosts converted the turnover into seven points with Turner shedding tacklers on his 12-yard burst up the middle into the end zone.
The Packers came right back with a 13-play, 81-yard scoring march that ate up nearly eight minutes. Rodgers completed all seven of his passes for 48 yards, the last coming on a six-yard pass to Jordy Nelson with 12:04 left in the second quarter. He caught the ball on the left side of the field, and while being forced out of bounds reached the football to make contact with the pylon for the TD.
The tie score lasted all of 14 seconds as Weems rumbled a Falcons playoff- record 102 yards with the ensuing kickoff return, hitting a wedge up the middle and eluding Crosby near midfield before taking the ball into open field. It was the longest scoring play in NFL postseason history.
Green Bay was forced to start the next drive from its own eight after James Starks muffed the kickoff return, but Rodgers used big yardage passes to Donald Driver and Jones to get the ball deep in Atlanta territory. The Falcons then sacked Rodgers on third down at the nine, but cornerback Christopher Owens was penalized for illegal contact. Two plays after a pass interference call in the end zone, Kuhn powered off right guard for the tying score with 6:06 left in the half.
It was the second meeting of the season for the teams. In Week 12, Matt Bryant connected on a 47-yard field goal with nine seconds left to give the Falcons a 20-17 win at the Georgia Dome.
"Even after the game, we had a tough loss, but we were telling each other we were going to see them again," Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "I think a lot of times when you lose a heartbreaker like that it kind of helps you a bit in the preparation for the next game. If we had won the first game, we would have felt we're going to have to do that again, but by us losing it brought a new focus to us this week, which we determined we weren't going to let this one slip away."
Since the NFL moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, No.1 seeds in the NFC are 18-3 in the divisional playoffs. The NFC's top seed has lost in the divisional round in three of the past four seasons...Starks had 66 yards on 25 carries...Nelson had eight receptions for 79 yards.
01/16 01:01:00 ET
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