AFP/Los Angeles, United States
Aaron Rodgers threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another as the Green Bay Packers moved to within one win of the Super Bowl on Saturday with a 32-18 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Rodgers set up an NFC Championship game against either Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints as Green Bay subdued the Rams defense at a frigid Lambeau Field.
Also advancing with a home triumph were the Buffalo Bills as Taron Johnson intercepted a Lamar Jackson pass and ran it back 101 yards for a touchdown in a 17-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
The Bills advanced to their first AFC Conference championship game since 1993, where they will face the winner of yesterday’s game between the Cleveland Browns and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
It was a deserved victory for the Packers, who dominated the divisional-round clash for long periods with a potent running and passing game before holding off a second-half Rams rally.
“This feels really good right now,” said Rodgers, who finished with 296 passing yards from 23-of-36 to stay on course for a second Super Bowl appearance, 10 years after leading the Packers to his first Vince Lombardi trophy.
The Packers were also buoyed by the presence of fans at Lambeau for the first time this season due to Covid-19, with a socially distanced crowd of 8,456 roaring them on.
“We have really missed that part of the experience,” Rodgers said. “So to run out of the tunnel tonight was unbelievable.
“It’s hard to explain how much it means, having that energy from the crowd. But being able to play in front of them tonight was really special.”
A third-quarter touchdown from Rams running back Cam Akers followed by a successful two-point conversion had cut Green Bay’s lead to seven points at 25-18 heading into the fourth quarter.
But Rodgers delivered the knockout blow, hitting receiver Allen Lazard for a 58-yard touchdown to make it 32-18 and put the game out of reach.
Green Bay had dominated the first half, moving the chains methodically and coming away with points on every possession in the first two quarters.
Mason Crosby and Matt Gay exchanged early field goals for a 3-3 tie after one quarter.
Rodgers tossed a one-yard pass to Davante Adams to put Green Bay up 10-3 up and the Packers quarterback then skipped into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown to make it 16-3.
The Rams rallied as quarterback Jared Goff upped the tempo before arrowing a four-yard pass into Van Jefferson to make it 16-10.
Rodgers, however, was not done. He made completions of 21 and 33 yards to set up another Crosby field goal for a 19-10 half-time lead.
Green Bay started the second half on the front foot, with running back Aaron Jones rushing 60 yards to set up his own touchdown run for a 25-10 lead.
With the Rams defense finally managing to make a stop, Akers’ touchdown and clever two-point conversion gave Los Angeles hope at 25-18.
But on their next possession, Green Bay’s defense reasserted itself with a stop and Rodgers made a long touchdown pass to Lazard.
The Packers will now host either Tampa Bay or New Orleans — who play Sunday — at Lambeau Field next weekend.
At Buffalo, Johnson’s playoff record-long touchdown play was a turning point in the first-ever post-season matchup between the clubs.
Bills star Josh Allen won the battle between quarterbacks taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. Both were coming off the first playoff wins of their careers but while Allen showed off his electric arm and powerful running skills, Jackson struggled mightily and had to leave the game at the end of the third quarter with a possible concussion.
On a cold and windy night, Allen threw for 206 yards and a touchdown.
Stefon Diggs snagged a touchdown pass and Jerry Hughes had two sacks as the Bills’ defense harassed Jackson and prevented the Baltimore offense from getting into the end zone.
Allen said he doesn’t care how it looks as long as the Bills walk off the field as winners.
“Our defensive game plan was unbelievable,” said Allen. “The guys stepped up when their numbers were called. We got the job done. You don’t get style points for winning in the playoffs.”
Jackson was hurt on the final play of the third quarter. Centre Patrick Makari snapped the ball over his head and Jackson picked it up but was hit as he attempted to get rid of it. He fell backward and slammed his head on the turf.
He finished his night with 162 passing yards, 34 rushing yards and an interception.
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