LANDOVER, Md. — The Packers ended the regular season with back-to-back losses that cost them the NFC North title and a home playoff game, but Aaron Rodgers vowed that they would be ready to flip the switch when the playoffs began.
The All-Pro quarterback was spot-on with his assessment. Green Bay beat Washington on Sunday at FedEx Field, 35-18, to advance to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs against the Cardinals on Saturday in Arizona.
“I talked the last couple of weeks about being able to turn it on, and a lot of you probably thought it was lip service,” Rodgers said. “We just needed a game like this to get our mojo back and get our confidence going.”
It didn’t take much.
“I said this week that it just takes one, it just takes one performance to get us going back in the right direction and believing that we can make a run,” he said. “The playoffs brings out the best in all of us. It’s a one-and-done mentality, the focus goes up, intensity goes up, and there’s nothing like a road playoff win. It’s exciting. We played with a lot of confidence.”
Rodgers’ theory about getting hot — and staying hot — in the postseason will be tested in next week’s rematch of a 38-8 loss in Arizona on Dec. 27. That sparked plenty of questions about whether Green Bay’s problems would bleed into the playoffs.
For one game, they didn’t. After a sluggish start, Rodgers was nearly as sharp as he had been when the Packers raced to a 6-0 record. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a 93.5 rating.
Washington’s Kirk Cousins, arguably the NFL’s most improved player in the second half of the season with 23 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the last 10 games, was mostly contained by an aggressive defense that produced six sacks. Cousins was 29-for-46 for 329 yards, a TD and no picks.
Washington built an 11-0 lead on a safety on Preston Smith’s sack of Rodgers, a field goal and Cousins’ 24-yard pass to Jordan Reed. The score would have been more lopsided if DeSean Jackson had tried harder to get the ball over the goal line on a 14-yard catch in the first quarter. The play initially was ruled a touchdown, but a replay review showed the ball was not over the goal line when his right foot went into the end zone before he went out of bounds. Washington had to settle for Dustin Hopkins’ 25-yard field goal.
“I think there was a time when we were down 11-0 where people could have had that doubt creep in, but it didn’t happen,” Rodgers said. “That was a big stop after what looked like a touchdown. We held them to a field goal after the replay review, and that really helped. To not be down 16-0, to only be down 11-0, was key for us.”
Rodgers started to get hot in the second quarter, finding Randall Cobb for a 12-yard touchdown with 9:04 to play. He hit Davante Adams for a 10-yard score with 28 seconds left in the half to give Green Bay a 17-11 lead.
“I’m disappointed on some missed opportunities,” Cousins said. “In the playoffs, missed opportunities really come back to haunt you because you’re playing really good teams.”
Cousins gave Washington the lead with a 3-yard run off a quarterback draw with 9:41 to play in the third quarter. Then James Starks put the Packers ahead for good with a 4-yard run around right end with 4:12 left in the quarter to make it 24-18.
Eddie Lacy finished a 76-yard drive with a 2-yard run to make it 32-18. Washington coach Jay Gruden later decided to go for it on fourth down at his team’s 23, but Cousins was sacked by Nick Perry for a 6-yard loss. Mason Crosby’s 29-yard field goal made it 35-18 with 4:39 left.
Now it’s on to Arizona. Rodgers is anxious for the rematch. “We felt like this was a possibility, to be able to go back there after that loss,” he said. “We’re coming off a big win, and their last game, they got beat 36-6 at home by Seattle]. So it’s going to be a more competitive game, I bet.”