Aaron Rodgers, Packers serve playoff notice to rest of NFL

GREEN BAY, WIS. - You don’t want any part of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers right now.

Not if you’re Dallas. Not if you’re Atlanta or Seattle. Not even if you’re New England. Not when Rodgers is playing arguably the best football of his career.

And most definitely not when he’s flashing that smile that can make a linebacker’s blood run cold when asked if he’s beginning to feel as if this is Green Bay’s year.

“Yes,” he said. “I do.”

With good reason.

The Packers have now won seven in a row after their 38-13 rout of the New York Giants in Sunday’s NFC wild-card game, a victory that pairs Green Bay with the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys for next weekend’s divisional round.

But it is the way the Packers are winning that ought to terrify everyone that still stands in their way — and I don’t just mean the latest in Rodgers’ Hail Mary highlight reel.

There have been games during the streak that the Packers have won handily, as they did when they beat Seattle last month. But more often than not they’ve had to overcome adversity. The more they do it, the more their confidence grows.

Sunday’s game is a perfect example. The Giants were, arguably, the best defense the Packers have played in the last seven weeks, and New York lived up to the hype for the first 26 minutes. Green Bay’s wide receivers were bottled up, the running game was sputtering, and Rodgers was sacked three times in the first three drives as New York took a 6-0 lead.

After that third sack, the Packers had minus-8 yards of offense. Yes, that’s right. Minus-8. Just to be clear, the objective in a football game is to go forward, not backward.

When Jordy Nelson was shown hunched over, his face in his hands, as he was driven to the locker room with a rib injury, the image captured Green Bay’s fortunes perfectly. After running the table to end the season, they had run out of room to run.

But so long as the Packers have Rodgers, they can overcome just about anything. Green Bay’s end-of-the-year surge might have come too late for him to win a third MVP award, but week after week he shows there is no one in the NFL who is better.

Down to their final play of the first half, at the Giants 42-yard line, Rodgers bought enough time for his receivers to get into the end zone. Randall Cobb took up position in the back, with Landon Collins, Eli Apple, Trevin Wade and Keenan Robinson all parked in front of him.

As Rodgers let fly, Cobb gave Collins a shove. It was a small one, but it was enough to give him space to out-jump the Giants defenders and snag the touchdown.

The play was reminiscent of New York and Green Bay’s playoff game five years ago, only that time it was the Giants with the momentum-changing play. It also was reminiscent of Rodgers’ Hail Marys last year in Detroit to save Green Bay’s season and again in the divisional-round game against Arizona.

“It’s fun,” Rodgers said. “Every time.”

The momentum was short-lived, thanks to coach Mike McCarthy’s head-scratching decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 42 on the second drive after halftime. The gamble failed, and the Giants scored two plays later, making it a one-point game.

But this is Rodgers’ year, if not all of the Packers, and he’s not anywhere close to being done. He connected with Jared Cook and Davante Adams for long gains before finding Cobb for the 30-yard touchdown. It would be the first of four consecutive scoring drives for Green Bay.

The Packers, once in negative numbers for yardage, would finish with 406. Rodgers would throw for four touchdowns and no interceptions, finishing with a passing rating of 125.2.

In the last seven games, he has thrown 19 touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s completed 69.6% of his passes, and has a quarterback rating of 121.7.

“Adversity is inevitable in this game. It comes almost every game, comes every season. The good teams overcome it and use it as a weapon,” said veteran guard T.J. Lang. “You hit that adversity point and we’ve been through it a lot. We understand how to respond.”

The seven teams remaining have been put on notice.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour


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