As snowflakes fluttered through sparsely populated Lambeau Field on Saturday, the Packers received further affirmation that they found the right man. Top-seeded Green Bay thumped the sixth-seeded Los Angeles Rams, 32-18, in a divisional-round playoff game, sending the Packers to a dreamy NFC championship game in which Rodgers will take on Drew Brees’s New Orleans Saints or Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his pursuit of a second Super Bowl title.
“The combined age of the starting quarterbacks will be up there,” Rodgers quipped. “I just feel so good about everything that happened tonight. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about next week’s opponent after tomorrow.”
The Packers have gone 28-7 under LaFleur, including 2-1 in the playoffs, and have reached the penultimate weekend of the season for the second time in his two seasons. The Packers’ offense dominated the Rams’ top-rated defense, validating its regular season finish as the NFL’s highest-scoring team. They scored on six of nine possessions, gained 28 first downs, produced 484 yards and reinforced the ways in which LaFleur, 41, has modernized Green Bay’s attack.
With a maximum of two opponents remaining, the question is: Who can stop this offense?
“Nobody,” said wide receiver Davante Adams, who caught nine passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. “We can only stop ourselves.”
The Packers are what happens when a quarterback who does not need the game made easier for him finds a coach who specializes in making the game easier for his quarterbacks. Their offense is a whir of presnap motion, mixed formations, play-action fakes, slashing running backs and crisscrossing receivers. Rodgers has the ability to make any system work, and LaFleur’s offense could uplift any quarterback. He’s a Michelin-star chef content to grill perfect hamburgers.
Green Bay’s game-sealing play typified LaFleur’s approach. Midway through the fourth quarter, leading by a touchdown and having tenderized the Rams’ defense with handoffs to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, the Packers lined up in a tight formation, out of which they consistently run the same running play. Rodgers turned and stuck the ball out — a massive play-action fake.
Wide receiver Allen Lazard ran toward the safety he had blocked on the running play, and he sprinted past two defensive backs. Rodgers flicked a laser beam into Lazard’s hands. Lazard had earlier dropped a sure touchdown, but he squeezed this one and trotted into the end zone, 58 yards that finalized the score.
Rodgers described the touchdown as the culmination of “an impressive sequence of plays by Matt” and attributed the success of it, in part, to “things looking the same.” LaFleur’s system lulls a defense by marrying run plays to pass plays and making them identical until the moment the ball is floating over the defense.
For most of his career, Rodgers used play-action no more or less than any other quarterback. In the year before LaFleur arrived, under former coach Mike McCarthy, he barely used it at all. This regular season, Rodgers passed for 21 touchdowns with no interceptions and a 138.1 passer rating, the best in the NFL, on play-action passes.
On the sideline Saturday, LaFleur and Rodgers met to discuss their plan for a desperate drive. LaFleur mentioned he had reviewed the Rams’ two-minute defense in the morning. “What?” Rodgers asked him. “That’s what you were doing before the game?” The Packers then whooshed down the field, 54 yards in five plays, and Mason Crosby kicked a 39-yard field goal that put Green Bay ahead by nine points at halftime.
“That’s the beauty of this staff,” Rodgers said afterward. “There’s no stone left unturned. We were really ready to play.”
It helps, of course, to have a 37-year-old presumptive MVP behind center. For Green Bay’s second touchdown, Rodgers pump-faked defensive end Leonard Floyd into a helpless leap and scampered inside the pylon. Before halftime, in response to a sudden Rams touchdown drive, Rodgers wheeled in the backfield to find time, scooted ahead of Aaron Donald’s fearsome lunge and rifled a dart 33 yards downfield to tight end Robert Tonyan.
In advancing to the NFC championship game, LaFleur overcame a familiar counterpart. In his early 30s, LaFleur worked under Mike and Kyle Shanahan in Washington, with Rams Coach Sean McVay a low-level assistant. McVay lived across the street from LaFleur and frequently hung out with LaFleur and his wife. He thinks of LaFleur as his big brother. When he became the Rams’ head coach, McVay hired LaFleur as his offensive coordinator.
Meeting his friend provided a flashback for LaFleur. In last year’s NFC championship game, the Packers faced the San Francisco 49ers, coached by Shanahan. The 49ers steamrolled the Packers. “I probably maybe thought about it more last year,” LaFleur admitted this week, and he did not fall into the trap again.
The Packers fell a game short of the Super Bowl last year, a gap they can close next week. Two years ago, the Packers were far from that point, a mess after McCarthy’s last season finished 6-9-1. At that point, it appeared the Packers might squander the end of Rodgers’s prime.
“I’m obviously not lost to the fact we had one of the premier quarterbacks of all time and that we needed to get better in certain areas,” Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst said that summer, before LaFleur coached his first game. “I don’t know if I thought about the fact we have to win him a Super Bowl. But I did feel a responsibility that, hey, we have an opportunity with Aaron to do some special things.”
On Saturday night, during a virtual news conference, Rodgers spoke at length about the love he has for this team. He called leading it “the honor of my life.” He has approached this season with intentional positivity, with the belief that his attitude and gratitude can enable him to will and speak his goals into being. He has a team — and a coach — capable of making it happen.
Packers overwhelm Rams to advance to the NFC championship
The Green Bay Packers dominated the Los Angeles Rams, letting their grip slip just briefly, in a 32-18 win to advance to the NFC championship.
In a contest of superlatives — the top-seeded Packers and their top pass attack against an elite Rams defense featuring two of the best defensive players in the game — leading MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers excelled, guiding the Packers to scores in five of the team’s first six drives.
He completed 23 of 36 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns while eluding the Rams vaunted pass rush all night.
Green Bay averaged 11.7 plays per drive through its first three possessions, two of which resulted in one-yard touchdowns facilitated by Rodgers. He found Davante Adams for the first score when the league’s touchdown leader escaped cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the flat, then handled the second with his legs--aided by a quality pump fake which launched Leonard Floyd skyward.
The Packers fourth drive, which lasted five plays and countered a Los Angeles touchdown with a 39-yard Mason Crosby field goal, could have lasted longer if not for an expiring first half clock and a 33-yard catch by tight end Robert Tonyan, which pushed the Packers into Rams territory. With that completion, Rodgers eclipsed Brett Favre for the most (then 439) in Packers postseason history.
Los Angeles and Green Bay traded third quarter touchdowns.
Packers running back Aaron Jones burst through the defense on the opening play of the half for a 60-yard gain, and punctuated the drive with a one-yard touchdown run five plays later. He finished the game with 99 yards on 14 rushes.
Jones became the first Packers player to rush for a touchdown in three straight playoff games according to ESPN Stats & Information. His scoring run put Green Bay ahead by 15 after the second of two failed two-point conversions, with the first resulting from a botched hold after Rodgers’ second quarter touchdown run.
Los Angeles closed the gap near the end of the third quarter.
But perhaps more significant than Cam Akers seven-yard scoring run and two-point conversion, was the defense mustering its greatest accomplishment of the night: forcing its first stop of the game halfway through the third quarter.
“The thing that I go back to that’s kind of stinging me right now is when we got it to 25 to 18, you cut it to a one possession game, our defense got two stops and we had some opportunities offensively to really kind of sustain drives, get some momentum going,” Rams Coach Sean McVay said. “The margin for error is just so slim against an excellent football team like that and I really thought that was going to be our chance to get back and potentially go drive and score and tie the football game up.”
Rams quarterback Jared Goff, battling an injured thumb, was efficient completing 21-of-27 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, but he and Akers, who rushed for 90 yards, were not prolific enough to keep pace with a Packers offense that dissected Los Angeles most of the night.
The Packers made their final incision with just under seven minutes left in the game when wide receiver Allen Lazard slipped behind Troy Hill and Jordan Fuller on a second-down play and caught Rodgers’ pass for a 58-yard touchdown.
That touchdown elevated Rodgers alongside Roger Staubach as the only quarterbacks to lead a team that scored 30 or more points against a top-scoring defense in the playoffs on multiple occasions. That touchdown also propelled Green Bay on to the NFC Championship.
(Final score: Packers 32, Rams 18)
Packers take control after touchdown, drive-ending sack
Wide receiver Allen Lazard was presented with an imaginary crown from his teammates after he ran behind the Rams defense and set up a 58-yard touchdown strike from Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers and Lazard couldn’t connect earlier in the quarter, but the play-action pass helped Lazard escape Troy Hill and Jordan Fuller in coverage.
On the ensuing drive, the Packers sacked Jared Goff on a fourth down play to regain possession, halting a seven-play drive. (Packers 32, Rams 18 with 4:59 left in the 4th quarter)
Rams draw within one possession on Akers touchdown
Los Angeles pushed Green Bay downfield throughout an 11-play, 79-yard drive culminating in a seven-yard Cam Akers touchdown. Akers lined up in a wildcat formation, blasting past linebacker Krys Barnes and dragging him into the end zone. On the two-point conversion, Jared Goff hit Van Jefferson on a quick pass, before Jefferson tossed a lateral to Akers, who zipped around the edge into the end zone.
The Rams forced Green Bay’s first punt of the game halfway through the third quarter on the previous drive. (Packers 25, Rams 18 with 15:00 left in the 4th quarter)
Aaron Jones runs up the Packers’ lead
Running back Aaron Jones powered Green Bay to its third touchdown early in the second half. He burst upfield for a 60-yard gain on the first play of the drive and spun into the end zone five plays later. Rams cornerback Troy Hill broke up the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, which could have been prompted by a botched extra point attempt in the second quarter. (Packers 25, Rams 10 with 11:24 left in the 3rd quarter)
Packers lead Rams, 19-10, at halftime
The top-seeded Packers were favored over the sixth-seeded Rams in what was supposed to be a dogfight between an elite pass attack and a stingy pass defense. But MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers dissected a Rams defense that harassed the Seattle Seahawks a week ago.
Los Angeles finished the regular season ranked second in sacks and got to Russell Wilson five times in last Saturday’s first-round win. But Rodgers operated with time in the pocket throughout the first half.
He went 14-of-20 for 169 yards with one touchdown on the ground and another through the air without a sack. The Packers scored each of their four drives. Rams sack leader Aaron Donald, who sporadically checked out of the game during Green Bay’s first half drives, had one tackle.
Rodgers threw in his lone touchdown pass to Davante Adams when his receiver slipped away from cornerback Jalen Ramsey for a go-ahead score in the second quarter. Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who had surgery on his thumb three weeks ago, appeared unencumbered by the injury, completing nine of 10 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Rams cornerback Troy Hill dropped a would-be interception with eight seconds remaining in the half. Two plays later, Mason Crosby reestablished a two-possession lead with a 39-yard field goal attempt as the half expired. (Packers 19, Rams 10 at halftime)
Rams reduce deficit before halftime
An up-tempo Rams drive, their most productive of the game at nine plays for 75 yards, resulted in a four-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Van Jefferson. Just one of their previous three first half drives lasted more than three plays before punts prior to their touchdown-scoring drive. (Packers 16, Rams 10 with :29 left in the 2nd quarter)
Packers extend lead on Rodgers touchdown run
On third-and-goal from the Rams one-yard line, Aaron Rodgers rolled right then pump faked to send Leonard Floyd airborne, which created space for him to scurry around the edge and slip into the end zone to cap a nine-play, 47-yard drive.
The Rams held NFL offenses to the fewer points per game (18.5) than any other team this season, but the Packers have scored on each of their three possessions.
Green Bay missed the opportunity for extra points because of a bad hold by JK Scott. (Packers 16, Rams 3 with 2:00 left in the 2nd quarter)
Adams scores touchdown on Ramsey as Packers regain lead
Aaron Rodgers found Davante Adams in the end zone for the 19th time this season to recapture the lead. The Packers brought Adams in motion to the left, where he lured cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Rodgers then motioned Adams back to the right where he escaped Ramsey and found open space in the flat after the snap.
Earlier in the drive, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty following his scuffle with Packers guard Elgton Jenkins. (Packers 10, Rams 3 with 10:49 left in the 2nd quarter)
Lil Wayne pens Packers anthem ahead of Rams contest
Rapper Lil Wayne dropped a new version of “Green and Yellow” Friday, ahead of the Packers divisional round matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. He hopes the anthem will produce similar results to its first iteration, which was released ahead of Green Bay’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in 2011.
The rapper was born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. in New Orleans, but as he explained on ESPN’s “First Take” in 2015, he became a Packers fan through his father, who returned home from Super Bowl XXXI with Packers cups and towels after Brett Favre quarterbacked the team to a championship in New Orleans in 1997.
“When you from the hood, I was tryna tell them [in my previous interview] those cups and those towels, they don’t get put aside and say ‘Oh, do you remember that game?’ No, they get put with the real towels so therefore you bathe and use those towels everyday, and those cups are used everyday,” he said.
He talked about the song, which references Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and David Bakhtiari, on Fox Sports 1′s Undisputed Friday.
“I did a song before and we had a good turnout, it was successful. We had good results and we’ll try to do it again this time,” he said.
Rams respond, even the score with field goal
Running back Cam Akers was stuffed at the line on third and two at Green Bay’s 15-yard line. The Rams lined up to go for it, but guard Austin Corbett was called for a false start, setting the team back five yards. Kicker Matt Gay slotted the 37-yard field goal to tie the game.
The Rams appeared poised to score early in the drive on gains of 28 and 19 yards from quarterback Jared Goff to receivers Josh Reynolds and Robert Woods, respectively. But three plays later, the Packers held Akers to a one-yard gain on third down. (Packers 3, Rams 3 with 4:39 left in the 1st quarter)
Packers take early lead with Crosby field goal
The Packers marched up the field on their first drive, but their 12-play drive stalled five yards from the end zone, setting up a Mason Crosby field goal from 24 yards out. The Rams, who opened the game with the ball, were stopped for a three-and-out and forced to punt on on their first drive. (Packers 3, Rams 0 with 8:42 left in the 1st quarter)
Contingencies mulled for NFL scouting combine, but no decision yet
League officials are discussing contingency plans for the upcoming NFL scouting combine that include taking a more regionalized approach to player evaluation and medical examinations of draft-eligible players, but have not yet settled on a format.
“Nothing is finalized,” one person familiar with the deliberations said.
It appears unlikely that the scouting combine will be held in the traditional manner in Indianapolis beginning in late February, with a large group of players gathered in one place at the same time.
The discussions include the possibilities of having players undergo medical exams in different cities. Workouts also could be conducted on a regional basis, or could be limited to players’ on-campus pro days. Players’ interviews with teams are likely to be done remotely.
If there is a modified event in Indianapolis, it could be delayed or spread out over a longer period of time so that different groups of players are on hand at different times.
Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur spin the latest chapter in a story dating to their time in Washington
Before Rams Coach Sean McVay was anointed the wunderkind of the NFL coaching world, he was more of a third wheel.
“I’d come third-wheel it with them a lot,” McVay told ESPN, referring to his time with Packers coach Matt LaFleur and his wife, BreAnne, when they worked for the Washington Football Team. “They kind of took me under their wing.”
McVay and LaFleur joined former WFT Coach Mike Shanahan’s staff as assistants in 2010. LaFleur coached quarterbacks, eventually mentoring Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. McVay began as an assistant tight ends coach, but evolved into the team’s offensive coordinator by the time Shanahan’s successor, Jay Gruden, took over in 2014 — and ultimately dismissed LaFleur and nine other assistants.
Their paths crossed again in 2017, when McVay left Washington to coach the Rams and hired LaFleur as his offensive coordinator. LaFleur departed the following year seeking play-calling responsibilities and was hired as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator. He became the Packers head coach in January 2019, a month before McVay’s Rams lost to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
At the combined age of 75 — 10 years younger than the starting quarterbacks in Sunday’s NFC divisional round game — McVay and LaFleur will headline one of the youngest head coaching matchups in NFL playoff history Saturday.
Rams, 49ers awarded third-round picks under NFL’s new diversity measure
The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers have become the first two NFL franchises to be awarded two third-round draft choices each under the league’s new diversity measure to reward a franchise that develops a minority candidate hired by another team as a general manager or head coach. The New Orleans Saints soon could join them.
The Detroit Lions hired Rams executive Brad Holmes on Thursday as their general manager. That night, the New York Jets hired 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their head coach. The Atlanta Falcons are believed to be focused on Saints executive Terry Fontenot as the leading candidate to be their next general manager.
If so, the hires of Fontenot and Holmes would double the number of minority GMs in the NFL. They would join Miami’s Chris Grier and Cleveland’s Andrew Berry.
“It’s a confirmation of the exceptional talent that exists in men and women of color in this league,” Rod Graves, the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said in a phone interview Thursday of the Lions’ choice of Holmes as GM. “When teams engage in a diligent and exhaustive process, we certainly feel like it increases our chances.”
The Fritz Pollard Alliance is a diversity group that works with the NFL on its minority hiring practices.