PHILADELPHIA – Aaron Rodgers simply threw his hands in the air and pumped his fist. No, he doesn’t celebrate like Brett Favre.
Rodgers doesn’t have to worry about the ghost of Favre anymore. He has made his own name with the Green Bay Packers, even more so with his first playoff victory.
Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, seldom-used rookie James Starks ran for 123 yards and the Packers beat Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, 21-16, in an NFC wild-card game Sunday.
“I never felt like there was a monkey on my back,” Rodgers said. “I’m just so proud of these guys.”
Rodgers had to watch from the sideline while Vick nearly led the Eagles back. But Tramon Williams intercepted Vick’s pass for Riley Cooper in the end zone with 33 seconds to go to seal the win.
Favre might have run on the field and carried Williams off on his shoulder after that play. Rodgers is a little more subdued than No. 4. He grabbed his helmet and went out to kneel down for the final play.
“We fought hard today,” Rodgers said. “Big interception by Tramon who’s had a great season for us.”
The sixth-seeded Packers (11-6) are heading to Atlanta (13-3) for a divisional playoff game Saturday night.
Rodgers patiently waited three years to become Green Bay’s starter and took over after Favre’s messy departure before the 2008 season.
“Defense played great. They’ve been carrying us a lot this season,” Rodgers said. “We had three touchdowns tonight, it was enough to win.”
It wasn’t Rodgers’ fault Green Bay lost 51-45 in overtime to Arizona last January. These aren’t the same Packers. This patchwork squad has 10 different starters, and a much stronger defense.
Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Co. contained Vick for the most part. Vick threw for 292 yards and ran for 33 in his first playoff start since losing the 2005 NFC championship game on the same field as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
“I feel like I got greedy and took a shot at the end zone,” Vick said about his last pass. “I didn’t throw the ball I wanted and got picked. It’s not the way I wanted to go out, but I went down swinging. I have to learn from it.”
Vick has come a long way since he was one of the game’s biggest stars during his days in Atlanta. He missed two seasons while serving 18 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting operation.
Vick had the best season of his career and was selected to start the Pro Bowl for the NFC. Vick can go to Hawaii now because the Eagles (10-7) are going home.
This was Green Bay’s third straight win in an elimination game. The Packers routed the Giants on Dec. 26 to stay alive in the playoff race, and beat Chicago last week to secure a playoff berth.
Then again, the Eagles might have advanced if Pro Bowl kicker David Akers hadn’t missed field goals of 41 and 34 yards.
“We can all count, and those points would have helped,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said.
The Eagles cut their deficit to 21-16 when Vick sneaked in from the 1 with 4:02 to go. The 2-point conversion failed, but the defense held and Philadelphia got the ball back at its 34 with 1:45 remaining.
Vick completed passes of 28 yards to DeSean Jackson and 11 yards to Cooper before he threw the interception from the 27.
Jackson and Cooper both thought Vick should’ve spiked the ball and called a huddle. But he had other ideas.
“I just feel we rushed that last play and we didn’t have to rush it,” Jackson said. “That’s what I was trying to say. ‘Just down the ball, just spike the ball, just kind of get back to the huddle and regroup.’ But he called ‘All go.’ We just ran what was called so that’s neither here nor there. It’s just unfortunate.”