It's Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood now
ATLANTA — Brett who? Aaron Rodgers has turned these NFL playoffs into his own showcase.
Carving up the NFC's top-seeded team, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, ran for another score and led the Green Bay Packers to their second straight postseason road victory with a stunning 48-21 rout of the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night.
The Packers (12-6) will have to win one more on the road to complete their improbable run from sixth seed to the Super Bowl, but nothing looks out of the question the way Rodgers is playing. He'll lead Green Bay into the NFC championship game at either Chicago or Seattle next weekend.
"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."
Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards, more than Brett Favre — the guy he replaced in Green Bay — ever threw for in a playoff game. After knocking off Michael Vick and the Eagles in Philadelphia, then dominating Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Atlanta, Rodgers is creating his own legacy in Titletown USA.
This was the most points ever scored by the Packers in a playoff game. They could've left punter Tim Masthay at home. He was never needed.
Green Bay scored 35 consecutive points, including Tramon Williams' 70-yard interception return on the final play of the first half that left the Falcons (13-4) and a crowd of more than 69,000 in a state of shock as the teams headed to the locker room.
"It was one of those nights," Rodgers said. "I felt like I was in the zone."
Ryan, who beat out Rodgers for a spot in the Pro Bowl, had a miserable night. He also was picked off in the end zone, costing Atlanta another scoring chance early on that might've changed the complexion of the game, and lost a fumble attempting a simple sneak. In two career playoff games, Matty Ice is 0-2 with six turnovers and a safety.
The Falcons went into the playoffs as the NFC's top-seeded team for only the second time in franchise history. The result was the same as the first time: one and done.
At least the fans didn't have to deal with the heartache of blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, the fate suffered by the 1980 Falcons in their 30-27 loss to Dallas. This game was pretty much over when Rodgers guided the Packers on an 80-yard drive to open the second half, running the last 7 yards for the TD that made it 35-14.
When Rodgers drove the Packers on yet another scoring drive, capped off with a 7-yard pass to John Kuhn late in the third quarter, thousands of red-clad fans headed for the exits, not even bothering to hang around for the final period of a magical season than turned into a green nightmare in the playoffs.
In the locker room afterward, Falcons coach Mike Smith tried to make sense of it for his players.
"I know they're disappointed. I'm disappointed. We're all disappointed," he said. "But we will learn from it. That's the important thing. We will learn from what took place this evening. I also told 'em, 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."
The Falcons simply couldn't stop Rodgers, who carved up the Atlanta defense on four drive of at least 80 yards.
Time after time, Rodgers ducked a shoulder or pulled off a nifty spin move to get away from a rusher, leaving him grasping at air. Rodgers put that extra time to good use, inevitably finding the open man in what became an increasingly tortured night for the Falcons.
Early on, Rodgers spent plenty of time picking on Falcons nickel back Christopher Owens, who was filling in for injured Brian Williams. Owens was twice called for penalties in a desperate bid to slow Rodgers and his deep receiving corps.
But no one on the Atlanta defense did much to stop Rodgers after the opening drive, when Stephen Nicholas chased down Greg Jennings from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by Brett Grimes around midfield.
Atlanta quickly drove for the opening score, a 12-yard run by Michael Turner. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they had to give the ball back to Rodgers. And, as everyone soon discovered, there was no stopping No. 12. A 13-play, 81-yard drive evened the score, Rodgers finishing it off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson.
The Falcons last gasp, as it turned out, was Eric Weems' 102-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, the longest return in NFL playoff history.
Rodgers went right back to work, even after the Packers bobbled the next kickoff out of bounds at the 8-yard line. That just gave their quarterback more room to work, and this time he guided the Packers 92 yards in 10 players for Kuhn's 1-yard plunge that made it 14-all.
Ryan was the first to crack in this quarterback duel. He had the Falcons in scoring position again, but threw up a ball in the corner of the end zone for Michael Jenkins. When the receiver slipped, Williams jumped up for an easy interception.
Back to Rodgers, who needed only seven plays to torch the Falcons on an 80-yard drive. The touchdown was a perfectly thrown pass to James Jones along the side of the end zone, allowing the receiver to leap over shorter cornerback Brent Grimes for a 20-yard score with 48 seconds left in the first half.
At that point, it was still a game, the Packers up 21-14.
It wouldn't be that way for long.
Atlanta hustled into position to try a field goal before halftime, thanks to a pair of pass interference penalties. But Ryan was sacked by Clay Matthews with 10 seconds to go, forcing the Falcons to call their final timeout.
That would be a backbreaker for the Falcons. Instead of sending out Matt Bryant to attempt a 53-yard kick, coach Mike Smith wanted to get it a little closer. Bad move. The Packers knew Ryan had to throw it near the sideline to stop the clock, and Williams read the play perfectly.
The cornerback, who sealed the win over the Eagles by intercepting Vick in the end zone, stepped in front of a quick out pass intended for Roddy White, made a nice cut around midfield and was gone on a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown on the final play of the half.
The crowd sat in stunned silence as the Packers knocked through the extra point then headed off the locker room with a 28-14 lead.
The second half was just one long victory lap for the Packers, whose hefty contingent of fans was able to move down right near the edge of the emptying Georgia Dome and serenade their team with "Go, Pack, Go!" chants.
For the Falcons, nothing but misery.
A long pass completion was overturned with a replay. Ryan turned it over for the third time, fumbling a snap while attempting a sneak on third-and-short. Michael Jenkins lost the ball after a catch, Atlanta's fourth turnover of the night.
And perhaps most painful to watch, Tony Gonzalez was injured on a catch late in the third quarter.
The guy who's caught more passes than any other tight end in NFL history came to Atlanta looking for the first playoff win of his career and perhaps his last shot at reaching the Super Bowl. But those hopes had long been dashed by the time he limped off the field, favoring his right leg. He eventually returned to the bench, but there was nothing he could do as he sat solemnly on the bench, watching his postseason hopes dashed again.