The Green Bay Packers took care of the top seed in the NFC, and the Pittsburgh Steelers sent home their archrivals from the AFC North in entirely different manners Saturday.
Sixth-seeded Green Bay routed the Falcons 48-21 in Atlanta as Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and ran for one. The Packers, who won at Philadelphia last weekend, will play for the NFC title next Sunday at Chicago. The Packers lost in the conference championship game three years ago to the Giants.
“That’s what you dream about,” Rodgers said. “We have to go on the road again … this just feels so good right now, to be able to put up an offensive performance like that, it’s just incredible.”
The 48 points were the most for the Packers in a postseason game. Plus, Tramon Williams had two interceptions, returning the second 70 yards on the final play of the first half, and Green Bay never punted. Other than a 102-yard kickoff return by Eric Weems in the first half, the Packers (12-6) shut down Atlanta (13-4) when the outcome was in doubt.
For the fifth time in 10 years, the Steelers are headed to the AFC championship game. They have a second-half meltdown by the Baltimore Ravens, and some clutch passes by Ben Roethlisberger, to thank for a 31-24 victory in a sloppy but compelling playoff matchup.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, the Steelers (13-4) began playing takeaway, and the Ravens were very compliant. Pittsburgh recovered two fumbles and picked off a pass in the second half, and the Ravens had several drops, including one in the end zone by Anquan Boldin that would have given Baltimore a late lead.
Instead, Billy Cundiff’s 24-yard field goal tied it, then Roethlisberger hit rookie Antonio Brown for 58 yards on third-and-19, leading to Rashard Mendenhall’s 2-yard run for the winning points with 1:33 remaining.
“I saw the young fella just take off, so I’m just going to throw it up for you,” Roethlisberger said.
Pittsburgh has been in the AFC title game in 2001, ’04, ’05 and ’08, and won the Super Bowl the last two times it got this far.
|Packers 48, Falcons 21|
After Weems’ kickoff runback made it 14-7, the Packers scored 35 straight points. Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and led four drives that covered at least 80 yards.
“It was one of those nights, guys made some big plays, I felt like I was in the zone, felt I escaped a few times,” Rodgers said.
Defensively, the Packers had four sacks and held Atlanta to 41 yards rushing. Green Bay avenged a midseason loss at the Georgia Dome, too.
|Steelers 31, Ravens 24|
Baltimore grabbed its first-half lead on Ray Rice’s 14-yard run; Cory Redding’s 13-yard fumble return on a bizarre play in which nearly every other player stood around with the ball on the ground; and Joe Flacco’s 4-yard pass to Todd Heap.
Then it all went sour, and the Ravens gained just 28 yards in the second half; they lost 4 yards in the third period
“We knew we had to play great; we knew if we didn’t play great we were going to lose this game,” Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said.
Ryan Clark forced Rice’s first fumble of the season on a reception, and LaMarr Woodley recovered at the Baltimore 23. Heath Miller’s 9-yard TD reception capped that short drive.
When Flacco overthrew Heap, Clark returned the interception 17 yards to the Ravens 25. Three plays later, Roethlisberger connected with Hines Ward for an 8-yard touchdown to tie it.
“Hines has been doing this for like 30 years,” Roethlisberger said.
Baltimore (13-5) won in the regular season at Pittsburgh, but Roethlisberger was serving the final game of his four-game suspension. The Ravens won at Kansas City in the wild-card round after the Steelers won the AFC North on a tiebreaker.
“We had a good year this year, but it’s just disappointing when you feel you have a team that could have moved on,” Flacco said.