ATLANTA — Aaron Rodgers was unconscious in Green Bay’s loss inside the Georgia Dome on Nov. 28. That afternoon, he completed 26-of-35 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 51 yards and a touchdown but the Packers lost 20-17 on Matt Bryant’s last-second 47-yard field goal.
Saturday in the NFC divisional playoffs at top-seeded Atlanta (13-4), Rodgers again was lights out. Rodgers was 18-of-21 for 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns … in the first half alone of a 48-21 win.
In front of 69,210 mostly flag-waving Falcons fans — many of them leaving as the third quarter came to an end — Rodgers finished a mind-boggling performance with 366 yards on 31-of-36 passing with three touchdowns. He had a quarterback rating of 136.8, and his completion percentage of 86.1 is an NFL playoff record for a quarterback with at least 35 attempts.
It all came behind a defense that allowed Atlanta only 194 yards — just 45 on the ground — had five sacks and forced four turnovers.
“Mike (McCarthy) just got us in a rhythm early,” Rodgers said. “I felt good about the calls. The guys made some big plays and I just got into a rhythm, not only throwing the football but moving around in the pocket. Special night.”
After Greg Jennings fumbled away a 30-yard gain on third-and-13 on the Packers’ opening possession and Atlanta capitalized with Michael Turner’s 12-yard touchdown run seven plays later, Rodgers went to work.
On a 13-play, 81-yard drive, Rodgers converted two third downs and hit Jordy Nelson for a 6-yard touchdown that tied the game.
Even after Eric Weems set an NFL playoff record with a 102-yard kick return to the end zone for a 14-7 Atlanta lead, Rodgers led Green Bay (12-6) on a 92-yard scoring drive that culminated with John Kuhn’s 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
“I thought Aaron was excellent today,” McCarthy said. “He was on fire. He likes playing in domes. I can see why. It starts up front, and with that, Aaron was able to run the offense at a very high level today.”
On the tying drive that started at the 8 after James Starks muffed the kickoff, Rodgers was 5-of-7 for 82 yards.
The next of the five straight scoring possessions — Green Bay was the sixth team in playoff history to not punt — came thanks to Tramon Williams’ leaping interception in the end zone. Rodgers labeled it the play of the game.
Ninety-eight seconds later, Rodgers had completed another five passes for another 74 yards and found James Jones for a 20-yard leaping grab over Brent Grimes.
Jones, who was a week removed from his fourth dropped touchdown pass of the season, had four catches for 75 yards as part of an incredibly balanced passing attack. Jennings had eight catches for 101 yards, Nelson caught eight balls for 79 yards and Donald Driver added six for 66 yards. Nelson, Driver and Jones caught every pass thrown their way.
"We kind of did what we wanted to do, attack the middle of the field early to work the stuff outside,” Rodgers said. “The guys made some big plays. James Jones coming back after his drop. I know he was the sickest person in that locker room after the last game but I had confidence in him.”
With Atlanta pressing to close the half with a score, Williams struck again with his 70-yard interception return for a touchdown on the final play of the first half, bumping the margin to 28-14.
“We ran into a hot quarterback playing at a high level and we obviously had a real tough time stopping them,” said Atlanta coach Mike Smith.
Rodgers continued to pour it on in the third quarter. With the half’s first possession, Rodgers directed an 80-yard drive after he was sacked at the 10 by John Abraham — who foolishly did Rodgers’ championship-belt celebration. Rodgers converted third downs of 13 and 7 yards and punctuated the drive with a 7-yard scramble in which his pump fake froze standout linebacker Curtis Lofton.
Rodgers, who consistently juked away from would-be sackers, concurred with one reporter after the game that this was his best performance.
“Yeah, this probably was my best performance,” he said, “at the stage we were on, the importance of this game. It was a good night.”
After Michael Koenen’s shanked, 21-yard punt went out of bounds at midfield, Rodgers led a drive that included a 22-yard pass to Driver and ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Kuhn to make it 42-14.
“Donald Driver had a real big game for us,” Rodgers said. “That was a big key for us, getting him going. He had a number of great catch and runs.”
Brandon Speck is sports editor of the Monroe (MS) Journal.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.