Aaron Rodgers passed for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth to help the Green Bay Packers knock the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons out of the National Football League playoffs with a 48-21 victory.
The Packers (10-6) advanced to the National Football Conference title game against the winner of today’s contest between the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks.
“It was one of those nights,” Rodgers said in a televised interview last night. “Guys made some big plays. I felt I was in the zone. I was able to escape a couple of times to keep drives going.”
Earlier yesterday, the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to beat the Baltimore Ravens 31-24. The Steelers will meet either the New York Jets or New England Patriots, who play today, in the American Conference title game. Both championship games are Jan. 23.
Rodgers threw a 20-yard pass to James Jones with 42 seconds left in the first half to give the Packers a 21-14 lead. Tramon Williams followed with a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown as the clock expired at the end of the second quarter at Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Rodgers, who passed for 366 yards, scored on a 7-yard run in the third period and connected with John Kuhn on a 7-yard scoring pass. Mason Crosby added two field goals in the fourth quarter.
“That’s what you dream about,” Rodgers said. “This just feels so good right now. To be able to put up an offensive performance like that, it’s just incredible.”
Michael Turner scored on a 12-yard run in the first quarter to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead, while Eric Weems returned a kick-off for 102 yards to score in the second quarter. Roddy White added Atlanta’s last touchdown in the final quarter on a 6-yard pass from Matt Ryan.
Ryan passed for 186 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for the Falcons (13-3). Atlanta had four turnovers.
“We will learn from it,” Falcons coach Mike Smith told reporters. “That’s the important thing. I also told them, as bad as they feel right now, remember the whole body of work we put out there this year. We can’t forget that either.”
At Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Rashard Mendenhall pushed his way across the goal line from two yards out with 1 minute, 39 seconds left to play to give the Steelers (13-4) their win over the Ravens (13-5).
Pittsburgh was behind 21-7 at the half as Baltimore converted two fumbles into touchdowns.
“We played terrible in the first half,” said Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who improved to 6-0 against the Ravens, in a televised interview. “We gave them the ball in prime field position too many times. We just didn’t play Steelers football in offense and we put our defense in some tough situations.”
Roethlisberger came out in the second half, throwing a 9-yard scoring pass to Heath Miller and an 8-yard throw to Hines Ward to tie the score at 21-21.
Shaun Suisham’s 35-yard field goal in the third quarter was countered by Billy Cundiff’s 24-yarder that tied the game for the Ravens with less than four minutes left in the game. Mendenhall sealed the victory.
Roethlisberger completed 19 of 32 passing attempts for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s Ben,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters. “You give this guy an opportunity to snap it; he’s capable of producing plays.”
After capitalizing on the Steelers’ turnovers in the first half, the Ravens watched their lead dwindle as they gave up the ball three times in nine minutes.
“We felt good at the half,” Baltimore’s Ray Rice told reporters. “Our defense had them stopped and I thought we were going to come out and handle our business. But then the situation happened: fumble, turnover, another turnover.”
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 125 yards, one touchdown and one interception.