The Green Bay Packers are headed to the NFC championship game, coming through at Lambeau Field and knocking off the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round 32-18.
Aaron Rodgers and Co. set the tone early, opening things up with a quick drive down the field. After a 3-3 tie coming out of the first quarter, Green Bay’s offense started rolling. With the help of some defensive mistakes by Los Angeles and dominance in the trenches, the Packers jumped out to a 19-10 lead at halftime.
Green Bay kept it rolling out of the break with Aaron Jones erupting for a 60-yard run, setting up a touchdown and a 15-point lead. Jared Goff managed to respond, making it a one-score game. Thanks to some missed big-play opportunities by the Packers, the Rams had life midway through the fourth quarter.
Then, it all ended in an instant. After hours of getting dominated on the ground, Rodgers dropped back and fired the dagger into the Rams’ heart. It sealed the victory and means Lambeau Field will be hosting the NFC championship next week.
Let’s examine the winners and losers from the Green Bay Packers’ 32-18 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
NFL Divisional Round winner: Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Since Aaron Rodgers took over at quarterback, the Green Bay Packers have never hosted an NFC championship game. It’s been on the All-Pro quarterback’s bucket list for some time, a mission that he was determined to accomplish on Saturday. With help from his fellow Aaron, Lambeau Field will be rocking on Sunday.
Green Bay’s plan of attack started with Jones. He took advantage of open running lanes, bursting through the Rams’ defense for chunks of yards. As Los Angeles started to get tired and made mistakes, Rodgers took advantage. He did catch some breaks, with two dropped interceptions before halftime, but it was a sharp first-half performance from Rodgers.
Jones’ 60-yard run to open the second half really made the difference. It put the NFL’s offense back in the red zone, where they are practically unstoppable. Sure enough, a few plays later, Jones punched in for a 25-10 lead. While that would have been enough for victory, Rodgers needed to crush the Rams’ spirits one last time and did just that with a gorgeous dime to put the victory on ice. Together, the Aarons combined for 395 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Aaron on the other side forgot to show up for the divisional round.
NFL Divisional Round loser: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams
Aaron Donald was invisible in the biggest game of his team’s season. Plenty of that can be attributed to playing through torn rib cartilage, a painful injury that limited his physicality and availability. With that said the perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and future Hall of Famer was pushed around for most of the night by Green Bay’s offensive line.
It also wasn’t simply Donald getting bullied in the trenches, but a costly mental blunder. After repeatedly losing one-on-one battles to guard Elgton Jenkins, Donald grabbed his facemask after the play and drew a 15-yard penalty. It put Green Bay’s offense in the red zone, leading to a touchdown and more momentum. The rib injury will heal, but Donald will be reminding himself of this ugly performance for a year.
NFL Divisional Round wInner: Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers head coach
When the Packers hired Matt LaFleur, the decision drew a lot of criticism. Out of nowhere, an offensive coordinator with one year of play-calling experienced would be trusted with Rodgers. It turns out, Green Bay recognized a brilliant offensive mina and took advantage of striking gold. LaFleur has been instrumental in scheming up an offense that uses pre-snap motions to get mismatches, bullies teams with the running game and quick passes, then kills them with deep play-action shots. We saw all of that on display Saturday.
LaFleur let his rushing attack set the tone early, racking up 74 rushing yards and averaging 4.1 yards per carry in the first half. When the Packers got near the goal line and Davante Adams drew Jalen Ramsey in coverage, LaFleur used pre-snap motion to free up his All-Pro receiver and it worked to perfection. As the game went on, Green Bay’s passing attack opened up and took advantage. Finally, after controlling this contest with the ground game for three quarters, LaFleur dialed up the perfect pass and Rodgers executed for the game-clinching score.
NFL Divisional Round loser: Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator
Entering the playoffs, Brandon Staley was a hot name in the coaching cycle. Even before his defense dismantled Russell Wilson and Co. in the Wild Card Round, the third time they shut them down in 2020, he was a popular target for head-coaching vacancies. He recently interviewed with the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Jets, drawing serious consideration, but the Jets ultimately hired Saleh. After Saturday’s showing, Staley should forget about becoming a head coach in 2021.
The NFL’s best defense was taken to school in the divisional round. While Donald’s rib injury played a role, the Rams’ collective effort and execution were poor. A 12-men penalty early proved costly and LaFleur used pre-snap motion to confuse defenders. The thing is, it wasn’t even Rodgers that really killed the Rams. Green Bay did whatever it wanted on the ground. After seeing his defense get gashed in the first half, Staley’s defense got pushed around right out of the tunnel in the third quarter. Aaron Jones’ 60-yard touchdown run set up a touchdown and a 15-point lead.
Ultimately, this reflects on Staley. A better offensive mind outcoached the Rams and the Packers looked far more prepared and disciplined. Little things like penalties, dropped interceptions and miscommunications proved fatal for the Rams. With the Chargers set to hire an offensive-minded coach, it might be another year as an assistant for Staley.
NFL Divisional Round winner: Green Bay Packers’ offensive line
Coming into this game, so much of the spotlight centered on Aaron Rodgers. It’s understandable; he is the NFL MVP this season and arguably had the best season in his legendary career. A key to that success, besides LaFleur, the best offensive line in football. Even without All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari, Green Bay’s big men set the tone for this game.
It wasn’t just Aaron Donald that got kept out of the backfield. The Rams could rarely generate any penetration throughout the entire game. Facing a defense that allowed the third-fewest rushing yards per game (91.3) and yards per carry (3.8), the Packers’ offensive line paved the way for 188 rushing yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. Not only that, the Rams managed to record just one quarterback hit in four quarters. Simply a phenomenal performance by this offensive line.