NFC Playoffs: Packers 21, Eagles 16
By Rob Maaddi
PHILADELPHIA ó You can put Aaron Rodgers in that elite quarterback class. Heís got his first playoff victory.
Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, seldom-used rookie James Starks ran for 123 yards and the Green Bay Packers beat Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles 21-16 in an NFC wild-card game Sunday.
Rodgers had to watch from the sideline while Vick nearly led the Eagles back. But Tramon Williams intercepted Vickís pass for Riley Cooper in the end zone with 33 seconds left to seal the win.
The sixth-seeded Packers (11-6) are heading to Atlanta (13-3) for a divisional playoff game next Saturday night.
Rodgers patiently waited three years to become Green Bayís starter and took over after Brett Favreís messy departure before the 2008 season. He long ago made Packers fans forget about Favre, and now has punctuated his impressive resume with his first playoff win in two tries.
It wasnít Rodgersí fault Green Bay lost 51-45 in overtime to Arizona last January. These arenít the same Packers. This patchwork squad has 10 different starters, and a much stronger defense.
ěI never felt like there was a monkey on my back,î Rodgers said. ěIím just so proud of these guys. We fought hard today. Big interception by Tramon whoís had a great season for us.î
Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Co. contained Vick for the most part. Vick threw for 292 yards and ran for 33 in his first playoff start since losing the 2005 NFC championship game on the same field as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
Vick has come a long way since then. He missed two seasons while serving 18 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting operation, played sparingly in a backup role last year and only got his chance after Matthews knocked Kevin Kolb out in Green Bayís 27-20 win in Philadelphia in Week 1.
Vick made the most of the opportunity. He had the best season of his career and was selected to start the Pro Bowl for the NFC.
Vick can go to Hawaii now because the Eagles (10-7) are going home.
This was Green Bayís third straight win in an elimination game. The Packers routed the Giants on 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 New York Giants on Dec. 19. But a stunning loss to lowly Minnesota on 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 hadnít missed field goals of 41 and 34 yards.
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 Philadelphiaís 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 the Packers 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.
Vick had 175 yards passing and 103 rushing in the season opener against Green Bay, nearly rallying the Eagles back from a 17-point deficit. He said afterward that he wished he played the whole game because he thought the outcome wouldíve 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 Rodgersí hands and Juqua Parker recovered at the Packers 24.