GREEN BAY, Wis. – The second quarter reached its final minutes and, with the Green Bay Packers division playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, which halted at halftime, Aaron Rodgers found himself looking around.
The music has grown. The home fans danced and swirled commemorative towels around their heads, gleeing with the double-digit advantage of Green Bay.
Rodgers felt it – the special scenario in which he, his teammates and his fans met. Football playoff. In the field of Lambeau.
It's been a while. Four seasons indeed. The post-season series of the 2016 campaign had a wild win at Green Bay over the Giants and a win at Dallas, but ended with a defeat for the Falcons.
Then came two years of playoff drought, seasons of nine straight losses and the resignation of coach Mike McCarthy.
But here Rodgers and the Packers met: back in the post-season, after a 13-3 campaign run by first-year coach Matt LaFleur, and organizing a division match after a goodbye last week.
I stopped myself. … It was just a special moment, ”Rodgers said during the next press conference the 28-23 win that marked the Packers ticket to the NFC Championship Game. “Just seeing the whole stadium waving those white towels and I think I was thrilled at that moment, just grateful for the opportunity and loving what I do, and there's nothing like having the ball in your hand in these clutch situations and knowing you got 78,981 [ fans] or whatever it was today – most of them – cheering for you. "
Rodgers, 36 – now in his 15th season and trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010, when he won his only ring – experienced those moments of online gambling, and he handed it over.
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Seattle and the relentless Russell Wilson had recovered from a 21-3 deficit at halftime, marking two touchdowns in the third quarter and one in the fourth. They owned the ball and had a chance to take the lead with less than five minutes to play. But the Packers' defense gave it an exciting position and striker Preston Smith's third and 5 service with 3:22 left left Wilson with a 6-yard loss and led Seattle to attack.
"They were just important players making important plays," Packers said, chasing after Aaron Jones about his teammates.
With the first defeat guaranteed, the Packers were free to kneel and run out of time. When the stadium exploded with joy a minute later, the Packers exchanged kindness with the Seahawks and then retreated to the locker room.
But Rodgers remained. He stayed behind to enjoy more applause and have fun at the special moment. Next week's game will take place at the San Francisco 49ers' house, so Rodgers wanted to savor the moment of joy that Packers fans rained on the Frozen Tundra as snow began to fall.
"Guys who have been elsewhere understand how different it is here," Rodgers explained after his 16 to 27, 243-yard performance and two touchdowns. "It's a different kind of connection. We have no owner. We have thousands of people who have a piece of paper that is a stock certificate, but people feel they are investing in what we are doing and have stayed with us for some difficult years. So, to get off the pitch, being a double seed – and let's be honest, I don't know if our fans felt extremely confident about us, which I know many media don't either – but being able to get off that pitch again, victorious , there is no will. ”
The sudden fall of the Packers after their 11-year Super Bowl win and seven other playoff cradles was confusing, both inside and outside the organization.
But a readjustment was needed, and the decision of CEO and team chairman Mark Murphy to hire LaFleur, as well as General Manager Brian Gutekunst's aggressive non-Packer approach to overhauling the defense at the free agency, was obviously worth it. worth it.
LaFleur brought with it a freshness that the players received. He invigorated the locker room. He preached an attention to detail, responsibility and humility. He stressed the importance of balance in attack – marrying Rodgers' dynamic pass with physical ground play – and aggression in defense.
But just as Rodgers said, the Packers had their share of dubious when they left the first round.
Critics questioned the validity of his record because Green Bay fought against several quality teams and failed to deliver many wins.
"We have to be the worst 13-3 team in the league, right? That's what they are saying," said defender Tramon Williams after Sunday night's victory.
Packers players and coaches were not discouraged by their doubts and instead focused on what they could control. LaFleur often reminded players to assume their eleventh part of a unit's responsibility and promised the desired results and results.
If the Packers had no statements during the regular season, they certainly made a Sunday night. They jumped to a dominant lead, suffering an impressive collision from Wilson, who led his team with 277 yards and touchdown in addition to 64 high-speed yards. And then, with the game in play, the Packers delivered decisive plays: Rodgers' third and long finishes in the final four minutes of play. Adams 40-yard touchdown picks up in the third quarter. Smith's fourth quarter bag, which was the second of the night and the fifth of the Packers' day.
"So proud of our guys, the way they fight and play for each other," said LaFleur, 40, after the game. “Resilient group. It was not always beautiful, but they approached and made plays. There is no better way to end a soccer game than when you are in four minute mode and need to make some moves. "
LaFleur and company should now turn their attention to the 49ers, who on week 12 gave them 37-8 blows at Levi's Stadium. Communication problems and self-inflicted wounds hurt the Packers in that game, but they regrouped and responded with five straight wins in the regular season.
"We feel we've grown a lot since then. Many of us said after this game, 'Okay, we'll be back here,'" Jones said.
Now they are 60 minutes from the Super Bowl.
"Yes, 60 minutes," Jones said, before choosing not to reflect on the magnitude of the next task. "One move at a time, one move at a time, and we beat them every turn, and we'll be where we want to be."
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
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