Better (to get hot) late than never for Aaron Rodgers, Packers' Super Bowl chances

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Three days after the Green Bay Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers — a game that remains their last defeat of the season — Aaron Rodgers made an assertion.

He announced, three days after the ugliest of their three losses in 2019, that he needed to “take the lead and get hot in December.”

The Packers then went on a five-game winning binge to close the season and earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but all the while Rodgers and teammates alike admitted their style wasn’t overly pleasing to the eye.

The final month of the season came and went without much heat from the two-time NFL MVP.

The cold spell ended Sunday, and at just the right time.

Rodgers threw with an accuracy and sense of timing that was reminiscent of the Packers’ last run to the NFC Championship Game in the 2016 season. When they were 4-6 that year, Rodgers said he thought they could “run the table.” The erratic Rodgers from the regular season turned into the vintage Rodgers of postseasons past during Sunday’s 28-23 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional round.

He dropped a couple of pinpoint passes for touchdowns after Davante Adams ran meticulous routes. He threw a dart to Geronimo Allison for a fourth-quarter third-down conversion that allowed the Packers to kill more clock and halt Seattle’s comeback momentum. He hit Jimmy Graham three times in stride — all for third-down conversions — and capped it off with a 32-yard fade that he dropped right into Adams’ hands on the final drive.

“It’s the perfect time to get hot,” Allison said. “Postseason football.”

Rodgers put himself atop the list of reasons the Packers earned the chance for a San Francisco rematch in the NFC Championship Game (6:40 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox). For the first time in three years, the Packers sit one game from the Super Bowl.

For Rodgers, it will be his fourth conference title game as a starter. Like the other three, this one comes on the road. He won his first one (at Chicago) and then lost at Seattle in the 2014 title game overtime heartbreaker and also in blowout fashion at Atlanta in the 2016 NFC Championship Game.

“He’s definitely hungry for another Super Bowl,” Adams said. “He deserves it, so we’re doing everything in our power to put him in that position.”

Adams did his part, and it reminded Rodgers of one of his old favorite receivers.

“Tonight reminds me of the connection that Jordy [Nelson] and I had for so many years where there were some unspoken things that we could do without even communicating anything about it,” Rodgers said. “Davante made three or four plays like that tonight, so that was pretty fun.”

Rodgers helped Adams set a franchise playoff record with 160 yards receiving on eight catches. Perhaps the most spectacular among them, Adams’ 40-yard double-move touchdown against Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers, came on one of the few throws Rodgers missed.

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The Packers’ core players of Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams power Green Bay to the NFC Championship game in San Francisco.

“Davante ran it perfectly,” Rodgers said. “It was about his body language selling the over and then taking it back up and then luckily I threw a bad ball to him that stopped him and allowed him to score there. That was just a very precise route by him, which allowed him to get so much separation.”

A season’s worth of third-down misses turned into hits. The Packers nearly doubled their regular-season conversion rate by hitting on 9-of-14 third downs and scoring three touchdowns. Their 64.3% conversion rate was their best in a game since Week 12 of the 2016 season.

Play-action worked to near perfection. Rodgers went 6-of-8 for 108 yards and a touchdown off play-action for his second-most yards of the season on such plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. All six of those play-action completions went to Adams.

So where did all of that precision and production from Rodgers come from?

“I don’t think it came from anywhere other than him just doing what he does best,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “I think, for me, seeing him make those plays early, [I said] ‘Yup, it’s going to be one of those games for them.’ He’s going to be seeing the blitz, finding the holes in the coverage, knowing the soft spots. When he’s doing that, good luck.”

Adams insisted last week that Rodgers could still carry the Packers in the playoffs if needed. While Rodgers’ numbers against Seattle weren’t other-worldly — 16-of-27 for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions — Adams felt like they were, “Just typical Aaron.”

If that’s the case, then it was atypical Aaron in the 37-8 regular-season loss at San Francisco on Nov. 24. Rodgers threw for just 104 yards — his second-lowest career total in a game he started and did not leave because of injury. The same for the regular-season finale in Detroit, where the Packers won on a last-second field goal after Rodgers completed a season-low 49.1% and was an overthrow machine.

“As opposed to our last game we played in Detroit, where I felt pretty good about most of the throws and statistically I was way off, I felt good about all the throws tonight,” Rodgers said Sunday. “I felt good about the ball coming off of my hand. It’s one of those feelings that start to creep up during warm-ups where you really feel like you’re locked in. It’s fun when it translates to the field.”

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