Packers hold off Eagles
Pick by Vick ends comeback chance
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 yesterday.
“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.
The sixth-seeded Packers are heading to Atlanta for a divisional game Saturday night.
Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, and Co. contained Vick for the most part. He threw for 292 yards and ran for 33 in his first playoff start since losing the 2005 NFC Championship game on the same field while with the 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 Dec. 26 to stay alive in the playoff race, and beat Chicago last week to secure a playoff berth.
The Eagles were the talk of the NFL after a sensational comeback win at the Giants Dec. 19. But a stunning loss to lowly Minnesota 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 Pro Bowl 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 Packers 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 its 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.
Vick had 175 yards passing and 103 rushing in the season opener against Green Bay, nearly rallying the Eagles from a 17-point deficit. He said afterward that he wished he played the whole game because he thought the outcome would’ve been different.
He had his chance, and fell short.
Down, 14-3, the Eagles got back in it when their struggling defense forced a turnover on the first possession of the second half. Darryl Tapp knocked the ball out of Rodgers’s hands and Juqua Parker recovered at the Packers’ 24.
Vick then made a perfect 24-yard TD pass over the middle to Jason Avant, who was surrounded by four defenders, to cut it to 14-10.
But Green Bay responded. Rodgers threw a 16-yard TD pass to Brandon Jackson to extend the lead to 21-10.
The Eagles failed to convert on third and 1 from the Packers’ 16 early in the fourth and Akers was wide right from 34 yards.
The Packers went ahead, 7-0, late in the first quarter on Rodgers’s 7-yard TD pass to Tom Crabtree. It was the first career TD for Crabtree, who had just four catches the entire season.
On Green Bay’s next drive, Rodgers ran for 8 yards on third and 5. Then his 9-yard TD pass to James Jones made it 14-0.
The Packers should’ve led, 21-3, at halftime except Jones dropped a perfectly thrown deep pass in the final minute that would’ve been a 63-yard TD.