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NFC Game Day: Can Aaron Rodgers be stopped by Falcons?

Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after scoring a touchdown in the first half during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Joe Robbins

The Giants did it for about a half. The Cowboys started to do it but couldn’t finish the job. Now it’s up to the Falcons to try to solve the riddle of this postseason:

How do you stop Aaron Rodgers?

“It will be a challenge,” Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith said this week. “He’s the real deal.”

The Falcons do believe, however, that they are better suited to contain Rodgers than other teams because of their speed on defense and their history of playing quarterbacks with similar out-of-pocket threats this season. In the division, they have faced Cam Newton and Jameis Winston twice this season, they played Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers this year, and just last week they beat Russell Wilson with the Seahawks.

“It’s not like we’re facing our first mobile quarterback,” Smith said. “We’ve played this style of offense. We’re fully prepared for this. They understand what a mobile quarterback is and how you try to stop a mobile quarterback . . . [Rodgers] will be a challenge for us, but we’ve faced those types of quarterbacks this year, so we feel pretty good about it.”

FRESH PEPPERS

Julius Peppers turned 37 Wednesday, but didn’t want to talk at all about the possible end of his career.

“I’m not really thinking about it that much,” the Packers linebacker, a 15-year veteran, said. “Right now, it’s about the Atlanta Falcons, not any reflection. Not yet.”

Peppers has shown few signs of slowing down. He made 7 1⁄2 sacks in the regular season and had one against the Giants in the wild-card game. But he and the Packers are very much aware that his time in the league is drawing to a close — if not an immediate one — and there is sentiment in the locker room to get him a Super Bowl title before his career ends. This is his fifth conference title game and he has won only once when he went to the Super Bowl with the Panthers in his second NFL season.

It’s an idea Peppers admonishes.

“You can’t worry about the outcome too much,” he said. “Preparation gives you the confidence to go out and perform. That’s the most important thing at this point, not any storybook endings or things like that.”

CATCH OF THE DAY

When tight end Jared Cook signed with the Packers, he came with a reputation for dropping passes.

“The comments I heard before he got to us was about his hands,” Rodgers said this week. “And we haven’t had any problems with that.”

That reputation is now a thing of the past. With the Packers hurting at wide receiver, Cook will be one of the main targets in the passing game. His 6-5 frame and athleticism, which was displayed by his sideline catch to set up the winning field goal in Dallas last week, have allowed him to make big plays this season.

Cook had offseason foot surgery and missed six games with an ankle injury, but since his return, he has become a primary weapon for Rodgers and a quick confidant to the quarterback.

“Jared’s been a big part of our success,” Rodgers said. “He’s a big body, he’s tough to cover, he does a good job catching the football and a good job with the ball in his hands. He’s been an incredible part of our success. He’s a great locker-room guy, a great leader for us. It’s been fun having him.”

RYAN’S HOPE

Matt Ryan has thrown at least three TD passes in each of his previous three playoff games, tying a feat held by five other quarterbacks. Here’s a look at the quarterbacks who have thrown three TDs in three straight playoff games:

Matt Ryan // Falcons // 2012, 2016

Tom Brady // Patriots // 2014

Joe Flacco // Ravens // 2012

Aaron Rodgers // Packers // 2009-10

Kurt Warner // Cardinals // 2008-09

Bernie Kosar // Browns // 1987, 1989

MAGIC NUMBERS

.618

Packers’ winning percentage in postseason, which is best in NFL history among teams with at least 50 games.

332

Average passing yards per game Aaron Rodgers has in his six career games against the Falcons. He also has 16 TDs and 1 INT for a rating of 122.2 in those games.

10

Rushing TDs by Devonta Freeman in the Falcons’ last six home games, including last week’s divisional round.

7

Consecutive games in which Atlanta has scored a TD on its first possession.

New York Sports