NFL play-offs: Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary helps Packers past Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers thrash Miami Dolphins in baltic conditions to set up Kansas clash

Aaron Rodgers threw a Hail Mary touchdown to help the Green Bay Packers get past the New York Giants. Photograph: NYT/Ben Solomon

Aaron Rodgers threw a Hail Mary touchdown to help the Green Bay Packers get past the New York Giants. Photograph: NYT/Ben Solomon

 

The Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 38-13 on Sunday thanks in no small measure to a Hail Mary touchdown that provided sweet revenge.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who shocked the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals with end-of-game Hail Mary touchdowns last season, stunned the Giants with a 42-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Randall Cobb on the final play of the first half of Sunday’s NFC wild card playoff game at frigid Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

That play gave the Packers a 14-6 half-time lead en route to a date at top-seeded Dallas in the divisional round next Sunday.

In 2011, the Packers went 15-1 in the regular season but were routed 37-20 by the Giants in a divisional game at Lambeau. On the final play of the first half of that game, Eli Manning connected with Hakeem Nicks for a 37-yard Hail Mary touchdown to give the Giants a 20-10 lead.

This time, Rodgers rolled out to his right and uncorked a high pass into the end zone. Cobb was behind four Giants defenders and the ball dropped over their hands and into the waiting mitts of Cobb.

Cobb, who had missed the past two games with an injured ankle, added two touchdowns in the second half - tying an NFL playoff record with three touchdown receptions - and Rodgers destroyed a Giants defence with three All-Pros in the secondary for 362 yards and four touchdowns.

Rodgers led the Packers to their seventh consecutive win. During that span, he has thrown 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

The Giants were down, but they weren’t out after the Hail Mary, thanks in part to a controversial decision by Packers coach Mike McCarthy early in the third quarter.

Facing a fourth-and-1 from its 42, McCarthy kept the offense on the field and the Giants stuffed running back Ty Montgomery. One play later, the Giants were in the end zone when Manning found Tavarres King for a 41-yard touchdown.

The Packers, however, answered. Having moved the ball to midfield, Rodgers went after slot cornerback Trevin Wade, who was in the game for injured veteran standout Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

First, it was a 20-yard gain over the middle to Davante Adams. Then it was a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Cobb to put Green Bay in front 21-13.

On the ensuing kickoff, New York’s Bobby Rainey fielded the ball at the sideline but couldn’t keep his balance, stepping out of bounds at the 3. The Packers forced a punt and took advantage of great field position to tack on a 32-yard field goal by Mason Crosby.

The Giants needed an answer but couldn’t get it, with Odell Beckham unable to hold onto a third-down pass in which he was wide open for a big gain.

Manning threw for 299 yards, but Beckham, just like the Week 5 loss to the Packers at Lambeau, was a nonfactor. In a playoff debut, Beckham caught four passes for 28 yards while being targeted 11 times.

Le’Veon Bell ran for two touchdowns and a team playoff record 167 yards, Antonio Brown caught two first-quarter touchdown passes of at least 50 yards and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ blitzing defense forced three turnovers on a chilly winter day during a 30-12 rout of the Miami Dolphins in an AFC wild card game in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger was nearly flawless in running Pittsburgh’s offence, which ran up 219 yards in the first quarter alone, and the Steelers quickly built a 20-3 lead less than 18 minutes into the game while running their NFL-leading winning streak to eight games.

Getting only their second playoff win since last appearing in the Super Bowl during the 2010 season, the AFC North champion Steelers will play at AFC West champion Kansas City next Sunday in a divisional-round game - a team they beat 43-14 on October 2nd.

With backup quarterback Matt Moore losing two fumbles and throwing an interception during a mid-game span of only three series, the mistake-ridden Dolphins didn’t come close to replicating their 30-15 win over the Steelers on October 16th, which started Pittsburgh on a four-game losing streak.

Jay Ajayi, who ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns in that game, was held to 33 yards on 16 carries and wasn’t a factor.

The weather - the game-time temperature was 17 degrees Fahrenheit (- 8 C) - no doubt was a factor, as attested by line judge Carl Johnson’s frozen whistle.

The Dolphins, who practiced all week in the warmth of south Florida for their first playoff game since 2008, huddled around sideline heaters all afternoon in a failed attempt to warm up an offence that never got going as chilly winds blew off the adjacent three rivers and into a frigid Heinz Field.

Brown came into the game with 50 career touchdown catches but none in the postseason, and he quickly changed that. He caught a screen pass and took it 50 yards to the end zone on only the fifth play from scrimmage for the Steelers, and that was just the start on a day Roethlisberger needed to throw only 18 passes - completing 13 for 197 yards.

On Pittsburgh’s next possession, Brown finished off a 90-play drive that took barely three minutes with a 62-yard scoring catch, making him only the fourth player in NFL playoff history with at least two TD receptions of 50 yards in a game - and the first quarter was only about half over. Brown had 119 yards on three catches and two scores before Miami’s offence gained a first down, and ended with 124 yards on five catches.

Bell then took over in his first career playoff game, running for 78 yards while carrying during all 10 times during a Steelers drive that ended with his one-yard touchdown run, which came one play after he carried it 25 yards to the one.

Bell’s rushing yardage broke Franco Harris’ team record of 158 yards in a postseason game, set during the 1974 season Super Bowl.

The Dolphins had chances to get back into it but kept throwing - or fumbling - them away despite two field goals by Andrew Franks of 38 and 47 yards, and they couldn’t get into the end zone until Damien Williams caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Moore late in the game.

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