PHILADELPHIA – Aaron Rodgers simply threw his hands in the air and pumped his fist. No, he doesn’t celebrate like Brett Favre.
Rodgers doesn’t have to worry about the ghost of Favre anymore. He’s made his own name with the Green Bay Packers, even more so with his first playoff victory.
Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, seldom-used rookie James Starks ran for 123 yards and the Packers beat Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles 21-16 in an NFC wild-card game Sunday.
“I never felt like there was a monkey on my back,” Rodgers said. “I’m just so proud of these guys.”
Rodgers had to watch from the sideline while Vick nearly led the Eagles back. But Tramon Williams intercepted Vick’s pass for Riley Cooper in the end zone with 33 seconds left to seal the win.
Favre may have run on the field and carried Williams off on his shoulder after that play. Rodgers is a little more subdued than No. 4. He grabbed his helmet and went out to kneel down for the final play.
“We fought hard today,” Rodgers said. “Big interception by Tramon who’s had a great season for us.”
The sixth-seeded Packers (11-6) are heading to Atlanta (13-3) for a divisional playoff game next Saturday night.
Rodgers patiently waited three years to become Green Bay’s starter and took over after Favre’s messy departure before the 2008 season. He long ago made Packers fans forget about Favre, and now has punctuated his impressive résumé with his first playoff win in two tries.
“Defense played great. They’ve been carrying us a lot this season,” Rodgers said. “We had three touchdowns tonight, it was enough to win.”
It wasn’t Rodgers’ fault Green Bay lost 51-45 in overtime to Arizona last January. These aren’t the same Packers. This patchwork squad has 10 different starters, and a much stronger defense.
Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Co. contained Vick for the most part. Vick threw for 292 yards and ran for 33 in his first playoff start since losing the 2005 NFC championship game on the same field as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
“I feel like I got greedy and took a shot at the end zone,” Vick said about his last pass. “I didn’t throw the ball I wanted and got picked. It’s not the way I wanted to go out, but I went down swinging. I have to learn from it.”
This was Green Bay’s third straight win in an elimination game. The Packers routed the Giants on Dec. 26 to stay alive in the playoff race, and beat Chicago last week to secure a playoff berth.
The Eagles (10-7) were the talk of the NFL after a sensational comeback win at the New York Giants on Dec. 19. But a stunning loss to lowly Minnesota on Dec. 28 cost the NFC East champions a chance at a first-round bye, and it seemed their Super Bowl hopes went down with that defeat.
Then again, the Eagles might have advanced if kicker David Akers hadn’t missed field goals of 41 and 34 yards.
“We can all count, and those points would have helped,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said.
The supposedly one-dimensional Packers found a running game by giving the ball to Starks. The sixth-round pick who played in just three games had 101 yards rushing all year. The Pack had trouble running all year after Ryan Grant went down for the season in Week 1. But they exposed weaknesses in Philadelphia’s defense.
The Eagles got within 21-16 when Vick sneaked in from the 1 with 4:02 left. The 2-point conversion failed, but the defense held and Philadelphia got the ball back at the Packers 34 with 1:45 left.
Vick completed passes of 28 yards to DeSean Jackson and 11 yards to Cooper before he threw the pick from the 27.
Jackson and Cooper both thought Vick should’ve spiked the ball and called a huddle. But he had other ideas.
“I just feel we rushed that last play and we didn’t have to rush it,” Jackson said. “It’s just unfortunate.”
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