Balanced Packers edge out Vick, Eagles to advance to Divisional Round

Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (C) runs the ball against Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney (L) in the third quarter during their NFC Wild Card NFL playoff football game in Philadelphia, January 9, 2011. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Here are six quick-hit thoughts on the Packers’ 21-16 victory over the Eagles in Sunday night’s Wildcard matchup.

1. Thanks to Starks, the Packers finally find offensive balance.
The role that James Starks played in this game cannot be overstated. All season, pundits have criticized the Packers’ inability to run the football and have questioned whether or not they could protect leads in the fourth quarter. But Mike McCarthy made Starks a focal point in his game plan (either that or he just rode the hot hand after Starks busted off a 27-yard run on his first carry…either way, nice work, Mike) and the rookie responded by rushing for 123 yards on 23 carries. From a yardage standpoint, Philadelphia held Aaron Rodgers (18-of-27, 180 yards, 3 TDs) in check. But because the Packers were able to stay balanced, when Rodgers did throw the ball he found open receivers (especially in the red zone). If Starks runs this way next Saturday night in Atlanta, the Pack could be headed for the NFC Championship Game against the Bears. (Oh whatever – I’m just saying what everyone is already thinking…the Seahawks don’t have two miracles in them.)

2. Rodgers silences critics (however few remain).
I was shocked with how much attention was paid to Rodgers’ 0-1 record in the postseason. He’s played at a MVP-like level all season and leads one of the most explosive passing games in the league. No, he didn’t have a playoff win coming into this weekend but he does now. He didn’t throw for a ton of yards but he was incredibly efficient. He engineered three big scoring drives in this game and had James Jones not dropped a deep ball right before halftime, Rodgers’ numbers would have been even better than they were. Because of him, the Packers are legit Super Bowl contenders.

3. Vick comes up short again.
Right before the Eagles’ offense took over down by five with less than two minutes to play, I texted a friend that if the drive didn’t end in a Michael Vick turnover I’d be shocked. After Vick led the Eagles down to Green Bay’s 38-yard-line, he took an unnecessary shot to the end zone and was intercepted by all-world corner Tramon Williams (what a season this guy is having). As a Falcons backer, I immediately felt the Eagles fans’ pain. I had seen similar outcomes like that before. Vick makes some incredible plays at times but he’s always been careless with the football. He’s always been a quarterback that with the game on the line, you don’t know if he’s going to do the unthinkable or make a boneheaded decision that will leave a bad taste in your mouth for three days following the game. That one throw doesn’t take away the great season he had and he kept the Eagles in this game throughout. (He also played that final drive on a bad ankle and came back strong after suffering a quad injury against the Vikings last week.) But if he wants to be elite and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, he can’t continuously come up short in the clutch.

4. Eagles’ red zone defense fails them again.
Coming into this game, the Eagles had allowed teams to score over 76% of the time they reached the red zone, which made them the worst team in the league in that category. The Packers reached the red zone only three times in this game and scored touchdowns on all three. On the flip side, the Eagles’ offense reached the red zone three times and they failed to score twice. That was one of the differences in the game and this is an area that has cost the Eagles all season long.

5. Questionable decisions by McCarthy.
It’s hard to bag on a head coach that just won a huge road playoff game against Andy Reid, but McCarthy deserves to be called out for a couple of things. First off, his handling of the clock in the final two minutes of the first half was puzzling. With two time outs in his back pocket, he allowed the Eagles to bleed the clock down to 1:15 before David Akers booted a 29-yarder. Then, with his team marching towards midfield on the following possession, he decided that a 14-3 lead was sufficient and allowed the rest of the time to melt off the clock. Aaron freaking Rodgers is your quarterback – take a shot. Granted, if Jones makes that catch we’re not even having this discussion but McCarthy still played things way too conservatively at times. As John Paulsen (my cohort here at The Scores Report and staunch Green Bay fan) texted me at one point during the second half: “You play to win the game. McCarthy plays sometimes not to lose.” Well said.

6. Brutal, David Akers.
Akers had never missed two field goals in a playoff game before Sunday night. He missed attempts of 41 and 34 against the Packers and considering the Eagles lost by five, those two botched kicks proved to be the difference in the game. The first miss would have given the Eagles a 3-0 lead and the second would have cut their deficit to eight points with an entire quarter to play. He’s been one of the very best throughout his career but teams rely on kickers to be perfect in the playoffs and he was anything but.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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