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Often, diversity on the football field is the most dangerous weapon of all.
It was logical to assume this game was going to come down to Aaron Rodgers and his magical right arm.
The Packers quarterback, after all, had thrown 48 touchdown passes to just five interceptions this season. Rodgers and the Packers prolific passing attack had been the linchpin to Green Bay leading the league with 509 points scored this season.
So, why wouldn’t the Packers continue to attack through the air in the playoffs?
But, what did the Packers do in their 32-18 win over the Rams in the NFC divisional playoff game Saturday at Lambeau Field?
They ran the ball. Then they kept running it. They used three different running backs and ran the Rams right back to Los Angeles. No need for the team plane.
“There’s a beauty in the diversity of the team and the guys that we have,’’ Rodgers said after the game. “[I’m] excited for what we can accomplish together. The running game opened everything up tonight. It’s all about the offensive line. They were the stars of the game. I was barely touched all night.
“This feels really good right now. One more here.’’
Indeed, the win advanced the Packers to the NFC Championship game back at Lambeau Field against the winner of Sunday’s Saints-Buccaneers showdown. For Rodgers, it will be the first time in his decorated career that he’ll play a conference title game at home.
The Packers (14-3) rushed for 188 yards on 36 carries. They averaged 132.4 rushing yards per game in the regular season.
On the Green Bay drive that somewhat defined the game, the opening possession of the second half, Rodgers never threw the ball until a failed 2-point conversion try after the Packers had taken a 25-10 lead on a 1-yard Aaron Jones scoring run.
Jones began that drive with a 60-yard run from the Green Bay 25 to the Rams 15 on the first play from scrimmage of the third quarter.
That possession, all six plays runs, was symbolic of the Packers’ strategy all night.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and his Rams counterpart Sean McVay are close friends. LaFleur schooled McVay on this night with an offensive strategy that duped everyone except for the Packers players and coaches who practiced it all week.
“The plan was building and building and building all week,’’ Rodgers said.
In fairness to the Rams, who led the NFL in scoring defense this season (yielding just 18.5 points per game), their top defensive player, Aaron Donald, who also happens to be the best defensive player in the league, was hampered by a rib injury that limited his snaps. Donald was reduced to tears on the sideline as the final seconds bled off the clock to end the Rams’ season.
Jones ran 14 times for 99 yards. Jamaal Williams ran 12 times for 65 yards. A.J. Dillon added 27 yards on six carries.
“We feel like we have three No. 1s, which is a great luxury to have,’’ LaFleur said.
The Packers, even with the best quarterback in the game behind center for them, went ground-and-pound on the Rams and pounded their defense into submission.
Green Bay’s offensive success this season came largely on the mastery of Rodgers’ right arm. The Packers won this game essentially giving Rodgers’ arm a rest despite the fact they were coming off a bye week as the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Though Rodgers finished 23-of-36 for 296 yards and two passing touchdowns (one rushing), it felt like a night off the way the running game was driving the bus.
The Rams cut the deficit to 25-18 on a scoring run by their terrific rookie running back Cam Akers and a 2-point conversion, and suddenly a game that the Packers kept threatening to put away was separated by one possession.
Then, the kill shot: a 58-yard Rodgers scoring strike to receiver Allen Lazard (4-98) with 6:52 remaining in the game for a 32-18 lead.
Yes, this TD came on a pass, not on the ground. But it was the play-action fake to Jones that froze a Rams defense that had been getting stung by the Green Bay rushing attack all game that allowed Lazard to run free in the middle of the field.
“The defense had to honor [the run] and that touchdown pass to Lazard was made possible because we’d lined up in that formation and were running the ball,’’ LaFleur said.
“The play of the game to put it away was all about the run,’’ Rodgers said, referring to the Rams buying the run the Packers were selling on the play action. “Matty [LaFleur] was dialing up some great stuff. We had a great plan, and it started with the running game.’’
Said the quarterback who threw 48 touchdown passes and for 4,299 yards this season.
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