The Packers quarterback seemed vulnerable this season. He was sometimes erratic, overthrowing receivers and running a step slow. Now he looked young again, navigating messy pockets and flicking his wrist to put passes just where they needed to be. He connected twice on third down — once to Davante Adams deep down the right sideline on third and eight, once to Jimmy Graham across the middle on third and nine — to exhaust the Seahawks’ stash of timeouts and send the clock dripping toward zero. The Packers’ offense sidelined Wilson and the Seahawks for the final 2:41, securing a 28-23 victory and a date with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game next week.
“He’s been doing this all year,” linebacker Blake Martinez said of Rodgers. “People look at it [like] he’s not making a lot of plays, but he’s making plays to win the game. And that’s all we need [from] him.”
This divisional round was one of the wildest in recent memory — the weekend’s biggest underdogs smacked the Super Bowl favorites, and the reigning NFL MVP erased a 24-point deficit to earn a 20-point win — and yet the second-half chaos in Green Bay belied a soothing predictability. The Seahawks haven’t won at Lambeau Field since 1999. That was true at the tailgate and on the drive home.
The Packers’ win potentially bodes well for the top-seeded 49ers, who throttled the Packers, 37-8, at Levi’s Stadium in late November. The Niners match up well with Green Bay and will play at home, and they get an extra day of rest before the game Sunday afternoon. But Packers players asserted this time would be different, that they could keep “winning ugly,” as they have all season.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty,” Rodgers said, “but what we’ve done [this year] is closed out games the right way.”
The players were emboldened not only by Rodgers’s final drive but the ones that preceded it. The Packers’ diverse, dangerous offense displayed why they no longer relies on superhuman throws by Rodgers. They leaned on a balanced approach with him under center and Aaron Jones out of the backfield. They found their best playmaker, Adams, again and again while mixing in unexpected twists like reverse pitches or a quarterback sneak. They barred star Seattle pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney from wrecking the game with creative protection schemes.
The Packers built a 21-3 halftime lead as Wilson looked battered by the Green Bay pass rush and the past; He has never won at Lambeau, and his numbers here rank among his career worsts. Then the Seahawks abandoned the run, and their quarterback roared back.
On Seattle’s first possession of the second half, Wilson marched his team 69 yards for a touchdown. The Packers responded with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Adams — their second scoring connection of the game — but Wilson looked unfazed. He mounted a second consecutive lengthy touchdown drive. Then a third.
The quarterback, an MVP candidate, was becoming a version of himself the Packers are intimately familiar with, the one who robbed them of a trip to the Super Bowl in the 2014 season with a frantic comeback in Seattle. Darnell Savage, Green Bay’s rookie safety, had watched those moments on TV, and he couldn’t believe Wilson was now doing this to him.
“It’s just like, there’s no way,” he said. “Then it’s like … He really…” Savage trailed off, eyes wide, head shaking.
Tramon Williams, the oldest cornerback in the league, knew better.
“The way that first half went, I could’ve wrote that script for the second half,” he said. “That’s why Russell Wilson is Superman.” Then he grinned. “Luckily, we brought a little kryptonite.”
Past Packers teams have had dominant offenses dragged down by sagging defenses, but this season was supposed to be different. Green Bay had used high draft picks on defensive players, signed two free agent outside linebackers, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, and found a balance that allowed it to create pressure without blitzing. The Packers needed the change to show late in the fourth quarter Sunday, when Wilson ran onto the field looking to lead a fourth consecutive touchdown drive.
And on that final drive, the Smiths emerged. They took turns bottling up the quarterback who had left a sour taste in their teammates’ mouths not so long ago. Za’Darius Smith hurried Wilson on first down, and Preston Smith sacked him on third down. Getting to Wilson was a relief more than anything.
“It was like chasing a chicken in a field with no fence,” Preston Smith said.
The game left the Packers’ locker room tired and quiet. They still had a long way to go. Then a figure appeared in the entryway. It was Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks running back. Several Packers did double-takes, and long snapper Hunter Bradley whispered he had never seen an opposing player come to another team’s locker room before.
Lynch was here to see a fellow University of California alumnus. Rodgers grinned when he saw Lynch and grabbed a jersey from his locker. They hugged and walked down a side hallway. Lynch looked tired, like he was once again in the twilight of his career. Rodgers didn’t. The old quarterback, for one night at least, seemed as if he still might have a lot of football left to play.
Read below for our in-game updates.