2020 Divisional Round - That’s What Cheese Said

“We’ve gotta kick the door in on this one."

The Packers beat the LA Rams 32-18 on Saturday night, punching their ticket to the NFC Championship Game and cemented themselves as the league’s leading offense. 

When asked who can stop this Packers offense if the leading defense can’t, wide receiver Davante Adams simply replied “Nobody. We stop ourselves.” 

The offense was the definition of efficient, scoring touchdowns on three-of-four red zone trips and going 8-for-11 on third down (excluding kneel downs). 

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw two touchdowns and completed 23 passes for 296 yards. He also ran in another score with his legs. Perhaps the most shocking part of the night? His jersey stayed clean against a dominant Rams front seven. Rodgers took zero sacks all game. 

“They were the stars of the game tonight,” Rodgers said of his offensive line, calling them “stellar.”

At one point early in the game, left guard Elgton Jenkins even got Aaron Donald to grab his face mask in frustration which resulted in a 15-yard penalty and sustained drive for the offense. While center Corey Linsley said a lot of praise will go to Jenkins and right guard Lucas Patrick, and rightfully so, left tackle Billy Turner also deserves a ton of acknowledgement for what he’s been able to do all season. 

“I don’t think enough can be said about Billy Turner, what he’s brought to the room, the versatility that he has,” said Linsley about the job Turner has done filling in for David Bakhtiari since his injury.

The offense spread the ball around effectively through the air and on the ground, with Allen Lazard leading the team with four completions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Robert Tonyan all had important grabs that moved the chains throughout the game, and of course Adams added nine receptions for 66 yards and the team’s first touchdown of the night. 

But as efficient as the passing game was, the running game has rightfully received much of the attention, with Head Coach Matt LaFleur using all three of his stud running backs in a rotation against LA. 

“I thought Ben Sirmans did an outstanding job in that game,” LaFleur said of the trio’s rotation in the backfield against the Rams. 

The running backs combined for a whopping 188 yards on the ground on Saturday night, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Aaron Jones led the way with 99 yards off 14 carries and a touchdown, with Jamaal Williams contributing another 65 yards on 12 attempts. Unfortunately, the last of the three-headed attack, AJ Dillon, left the game with a quad injury and will likely be questionable for Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers. 

“Teams gotta decide how they want to defend us,” LaFleur said of the offense’s ability to run with three dynamic backs or lean heavily on the passing game. 

Defensively, the Packers got the job done, holding the Rams to 18 points and shutting them out in the fourth quarter. While there were no turnovers on either side of the ball, the Packers defense sacked Jared Goff four times and allowed LA to convert only two-of-eight third down attempts. 

“We understand that we need each other,” said defensive lineman Kenny Clark referring to what happens both on and off the field. “We’ve been practicing harder, getting after each other more at practice and playing to a certain standard so we can play great football each and every week, so the accountability part is definitely huge with our team.”

Clark and second-year edge rusher Rashan Gary combined for three sacks on the night, with Za’Darius Smith adding a fourth. Preston Smith also got involved batting a pass at the line of scrimmage. Middle linebacker Krys Barnes even broke his left thumb midway through the game and returned to action with a club on his hand. He likely would’ve snagged an interception if he had both hands free.

“It’s a special group,” LaFleur said of his team, praising the level of energy the team brought all week both in practice and on the field Saturday. “I thought our guys’ mentality was spot on.”

The energy in the post-game press conference was palpable, with the players realizing what’s at stake in this next game, the NFC Championship Game hosted at Lambeau Field. 

“I’m just so happy for our guys. Definitely a little emotional just thinking about what we’ve been through. Got me emotional with the crowd out there today. I’m just still really happy about everything that happened tonight,” said Rodgers smiling. 

Multiple players mentioned the energy the roughly 9,000 fans brought to the stands, adding it sounded more like 50,000 or even 90,000 fans rocking the lower level of the bowl. 

For Linsley, this is his fourth NFC Championship Game appearance in seven years. 

“The level of urgency is definitely heightened,” he said of being one game away from the Super Bowl and having that game at Lambeau Field. “It’s not like it wasn’t there before, but this is kind of, this is a big one for all of us.”

Clark agreed. This is his third NFC Championship appearance in his five NFL seasons, and he made sure to point out that some guys don’t even get one opportunity. 

“We’ve gotta kick the door in on this one,” he said. “We’ve gotta just give it everything we got. This is the big one. We’ve gotta get to the Super Bowl.”

Lazard emphasized how nice it is to be able to keep a consistent routine, adding that outside of the team’s short trip to Chicago, they’ve been able to be home for the entire month of January. “Being able to spend really the whole month of January in Green Bay, not having to travel, takes off a lot of anxiety and extra pressure, uncomfortability having to sleep in a hotel the night before.”

To Adams, playing at Lambeau Field is a “different brand of football,” and there’s possible snow in the forecast for Sunday’s kickoff. 

But perhaps even more special than the home field advantage that is the Frozen Tundra, the close knit nature of the team is what’s especially significant. 

“There’s a beauty in the diversity of the team that we have in personality. I’m thankful for the guys, I’m thankful for this opportunity to still be here and still be the guy, and excited about what we can accomplish together,” said Rodgers. 

“When you know that the other 10 guys out there are holding themselves to that same level of standard, that same high level of accountability, you feel way more confident and trust yourself way more,” added Lazard. 

It’s never been clearer what’s at stake for the Green Bay Packers. For the first time in quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ career as a starter, the Packers will host the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field. Six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady will be on the other side. It’s a team that beat the Packers handedly in Week 6 of the regular season, and a team that lent the Packers plenty of bulletin board material after that first meeting. 

“I just think we’re a resilient group. What’s happened in the past at this point, it really doesn’t matter. It’s about what we do moving forward,” said LaFleur. “We’re talking about the NFC Championship Game with an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. I think that’s enough motivation right there.”

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (14)

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mnbadger's picture

January 19, 2021 at 12:34 pm

This is so fun, thank you Packers for giving us all something light and positive to enjoy. bring on the tb bucs, (does? 50 cent pieces? 10 cents an ears for you sweet corn fans? need a little help on an insult here) GPG

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Leatherhead's picture

January 19, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Very nice. I think that it touched some of the key points about this team....the Oline and the defense.

It’s impossible to overstate what the line did this season, and especially in this game. Minus two preferred starters (Taylor and Bakhtiari) , they just pushed around a pretty good defensive line. I was watching the game with people who hadn’t seen the Packers that much and they were just amazed at the time Rodgers had, especially when we contrasted it with the punishment Lamar Jackson took during the next game.

I think this is the best group we’ve had since the merger. And I think the Packers are having one of their best stretches in their history, the QB is playing great and the offense is dominant. Coincidence??

The defense took a lot of criticism this year, even though much of it was off target. It is great that that they’ve tightened the clamps. The last 4 opponents at Lambeau have gone 16, 16, 14, 18. That’s defense, no matter what some people keep saying.

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SterlingSharpe's picture

January 19, 2021 at 01:21 pm

Please please please.... beat Tampa Bay.
We gotta be the bullies.

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LayingTheLawe's picture

January 19, 2021 at 01:24 pm

My book:

In 2019 the Packer offense was average. They scored an average number of points and gained an average number of yards. Frankly, a lot of that was due to the quarterback. My belief is that 2019 Aaron Rodgers had been scarred by years of playing in a bad system and no longer trusted the offense. The 2019 Rodgers held on to the ball too long and got sacked or forced his linemen into holds. The 2019 Rodgers did not think the playcalling could create scoring chances so he felt the need to try to create chunk plays to move the ball. He consistently passed up open short receivers in favor of attempting much more difficult throws farther down the field to often covered receivers. It got to the point where even a casual fan like me could see it and wonder "Why isn't he throwing it to that open guy right there?"

Being someone with the extreme talent of Aaron Rodgers he was able to make this work marginally. If the 2019 Aaron Rodgers had returned in 2020, the main topic in here would probably be when would the Packers start giving the young guy a chance to show what he has got.

Instead 2020 Aaron Rodgers arrived. And 2020 Aaron Rodgers is the runaway MVP of the league. What changed? Somewhere in the space between seasons Aaron Rodgers bought into the offense. He not only bought in he became a vocal zealot for the offense. He saw this offense could make his job easier. He saw that he no longer had to throw fadeaway no look passes to receivers blanketed in the corner of the end zone - even if the sickest play in the history of the NFL is that throw to WIlliams against Kansas City, it is hardly something to build an offense on. Now he can just throw it to the guy with three yards of clear space and move the ball consistently. He could trust the pass catchers to advance the ball and get it into the red zone. He could trust that the opportunities for deeper shots would arrive as a normal part of the game plan and did not need to be forced. He could trust that they did not even need to run special plays at the goal line and just run their normal offense and score. And score a lot!

When this remarkable change and trust in the offense developed I am not sure. I compare it to the scene in that terrible Tom Cruise stock racing movie. Robert Duvall shows the young hotshot driver that driving his way will lead to wins. He has Cruise drive some laps the way he wants and they show how he chews up the tires. He then has him drive the way Duvall wants and his times are faster and the tires aren't shredded. Driving this way he can win the race using his skills at selected moments when required.

In 2020 Aaron Rodgers throws the ball much more quickly. He makes life easier for his line. Sacks are greatly reduced and penalties are down. The 2020 Aaron Rodgers takes that checkdown consistently and uses it to set up the deep shot for later. Play action fakes are now a huge weapon of this offense. And the Packers lead the NFL in scoring. Aaron Rodgers had 48 regular season touchdown passes and most of them were NOT pinpoint throws to double covered receivers, but were accurate throws to wide open receivers created by the scheme of the offense. You combine Rodger's accuracy and vision with a scheme that has wide open players for him to send it to and the league has found it is a lethal combination. As the season has gone on the offense has grown and seems to sputter only when they make errors.

The leap from scoring in the middle of the NFL to number one in a single season should get the coach talk for coach of the year. It won't, but it should. Getting the HOF quarterback to buy in and embrace the checkdown should get the coach talk for coach of the year. Again, it won't but it should. Lafleur got Rodgers to buy into the offense whole heartedly and as a result Rodgers is as healthy and more fresh than ever this late into the season. I now believe that 2020 Aaron Rodgers thinks that in THIS offense he can play for years yet. And if he keeps playing like this, that will make it impossible not to keep him doing just that.

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CAG123's picture

January 19, 2021 at 01:25 pm

I just hope they can get this playoff rematch monkey off their backs I was just thinking man every they face a team in regular season they lose to that same team in the playoffs. (not counting the 2010 Bears or 2012 Vikings)

2009 Cardinals
2011 Giants
2012 49ers
2013 49ers
2014 Seahawks
2015 Cardinals
2016 Falcons
2019 49ers
Yeah I get different team different coach blah blah but history has not been on our side hopefully that changes Sunday.

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hobowilly's picture

January 19, 2021 at 01:40 pm

CAG! Understand...but there will be no monkey this time. Major reason, we are without MM and AR having his greatest season to date. Once you let Mr. Rodgers, read and DO with his exceptional check downs and audibles, like Adams has said, we'd only lose by beating ourselves. What a great bunch of players, each committed to doing their 1/11th and, they truly do have an outstanding focused group of coaches who bring out their best.
Thank God, Pettine took the time to listen to his players and it's odd we haven't heard more about coach Gray, but you know he's been coaching them up better than ever. I love the fact that both MLF and AR keep giving credit to the coaches/schemes AND folks that'll win the NFCCG this time around and land us in balmy Tampa Bay. Yes, i do watch and will revel in all the locker room celebrations on Sunday and in February. IT WILL HAPPEN TWICE!!

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MarkinMadison's picture

January 19, 2021 at 01:47 pm

I feel better about playing the Bucs than the Saints, mostly because of special teams.

#12 has to stay disciplined and avoid the turnovers.

The salary cap numbers look pretty ugly next year. I don't see how they can bring back Aaron Jones. Some other folks may be cut or traded away. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. This team is good enough to win it all. The time is now.

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canadapacker's picture

January 19, 2021 at 02:21 pm

"""Crowning achievement: Packers receivers prove worthy once and for all"Rob Demovsky ESPN Staff Writer""
I dont know where Mr Demovsky was on this issue before the 2020 Draft. I know where I was - I wanted some interior linemen or linebackers because I felt that we had enough up front there and not enough in the middle - even with the addition of Kirksey. I got tired of the experts telling us that we needed to help AR out. AR needed to help AR out - I think that people continually overlooked that AR took some time to be convinced that these guys could make YAC moving the chains and was both overlooking the shorter intermediate routes that were often open earlier and missed on those short swing passes. Waiting too long last year caused some sacks but we still went 13-3 and even though we got crushed by San Frans ground game - one cant help but consider that last years season was pretty successful. This year with the home game in Lambeau we cannot consider us as being successful without getting to the Superbowl - and I say this because how many times to you have a chance to win one home game to get there - they just dont come along that often. So all I would like to see us do is go out and play to our offensive standard and make some plays on defense. Practice hard boys and get well Dillon

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MarkinMadison's picture

January 19, 2021 at 02:43 pm

So one big difference between the game this weekend and the last time the Pack met the Bucs is that Lazard did not play. Lazard is generally a bit more consistent than MVS - Lazard has two games this year where he caught 50% or less of his targets v. nine such games by MVS, including four in the last six games. So I think Lazard being healthy and available for this weekend is big. Once you get past Adams and Lazard, the consistency is just not there. Hopefully these guys will develop. Similarly, Bob Tonyan's emergence has been the saving grace for the TE group. So I can understand the commentators and posters who thought the Packers should pick up a receiving weapon for Rodgers. Clearly though, the best WR picks were gone by pick #23.

It would be interesting to know if the Packers would have taken Justin Jefferson if they had been given the opportunity. But the overall plan now is pretty clear. Take the running game seriously. Draft for the future, fill immediate needs from within or from FA. The pattern may shift (because they are $20M+ in the hole for next year) but that seems to have been what they were doing for the last two years.

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canadapacker's picture

January 20, 2021 at 11:11 am

I mostly agree with a couple of exceptions - Lazard has had more drops than MVS it just that MVS's drops are such big plays. Lazards drops have been on some easier throws as well while a couple of MVS's have been tough catches - plays that should be made but tough catches. Tonyon is a big surprise although he showed a glimpse 2 years ago but I and most had thought that this was Sternbergers time to show up - and for a variety of reasons he has been a relative no show. Also dont underestimate the work of the Big Dog - Lewis has not only made the odd big catch but is also a force helping the Oline block. As far as Jefferson is concerned - once Love was the pick - there was not chance for Jefferson - there is little who appear better after Dillon in the draft so he was a good pick there also.

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Leatherhead's picture

January 19, 2021 at 03:53 pm

There’s a lot of different ways to move the ball and score points. We’re used to a certain way and people needed to adjust their understanding.

Truly, I thought we would run more and pass less; I didn’t think we’d be the best offense in the league. I didn’t think we’d have the most passing TDs.

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Since'61's picture

January 19, 2021 at 02:59 pm

No excuses. Team is at home and pretty healthy. Rodgers and the OL are playing brilliantly. Defense is making stops and playing much better than when we played Tampa back in Week 6.

Stop Bucs ground game and get interior pressure on Brady.
Our offense will do the rest. Go Pack Go!
Thanks, Since ‘61

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splitpea1's picture

January 19, 2021 at 04:04 pm

Love to see a couple of coverage sacks. No matter what the offense does, the back end of the defense is going to have to be at the top of their game from start to the very last second. After Super Bowl 51, we know that anything is possible--so Pettine can't get passive at any point.

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Fabio's picture

January 20, 2021 at 05:12 am

God knows how much I want Pack to destroy Bucs. But I also have to be honest. We are not the favorites. Let's take every single player from the two teams and compare them. I think Bucs are superior in many places ..... and it hurts me to see Brady once again playing against Rodgers with a lot more talent to rely on. I think once again the key will be how we manage to protect Rodgers, but this time ILB CB and S will also be much more important because I doubt we will be able to constantly put pressure on Brady). But it does not matter. If we want to be the best we have to beat the best !!! So come on, Green Bay Citizens, Wisconsin Fans, Optimistic Fans, Pessimistic Fans and Fans all over the world (myself included) ..... let's go Green Bay Packers .... let's make history (Then next year we'll talk again of the draft ...) Go Pack Go

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