PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – The withstood a ferocious late finish from the to win their NFL playoff 21-16 on Sunday and advance to the next round against Atlanta.
The Packers, one of the pre-season favorites to win this year’s , were never headed during the game but almost came unstuck in the final quarter as the Eagles threatened to steal victory.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in the win, but the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense also benefited from some missed opportunities by the Eagles.
The NFC East division champions missed two field goals and a last-gasp pass from quarterback that might have led to a winning touchdown but was intercepted in the end zone.
While the Eagles were left ruing their missed opportunities and early exit from the post-season, the Packers moved ahead to next weekend’s divisional playoffs against NFC top seed the Atlanta Falcons.
“We’re just getting started,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters. “We just won a big football game here against a championship-caliber program and we have an opportunity to go to Atlanta to play the number one seed down there.”
The Packers led 14-3 at the half and 21-10 late in the fourth quarter before Vick drove in from the one yard line to cut the lead 21-16 with four minutes to play.
The Eagles’ two point conversion try that would have put them within a field goal failed.
Philadelphia held the Packers and got the ball back on their own 34 yard line with 1:45 left for one last push although they were out of timeouts.
Vick took the Eagles down to the Green Bay 27 but cornerback Tramon Williams intercepted a pass intended for receiver Riley Cooper to seal the win.
“The last play, I just took a shot at the end zone,” Vick said after limping into the interview room, favoring an ankle he strained on a sack late in the fourth quarter.
“I could have checked it down to the back and I got greedy and took a shot at the end zone. I didn’t throw the right ball I wanted to throw and it got picked off.
“It was a bad way to go out, but I went out swinging.”
Two botched field goal tries in windy conditions by the usually reliable David Akers, a 41 -yard attempt in the first quarter and a 34 yard shot in the fourth quarter, also punctured the hosts’ chances.
Eagles coach Andy Reid was brief in his remarks, still stinging from the defeat and miffed about the missed field goals.
“We can all count,” said Reid. “Those points would have helped.”
Rodgers completed 18-of-27 passes for 180 yards and no interceptions, while Vick was 20-of-36 for 292 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Vick made a couple of dashes for first downs but was largely held in check by the Packers, who limited him to 33 yards on eight rushes.
Rodgers hit tight end Tom Crabtree for a seven yard touchdown in the first quarter, fired a low, nine yard touchdown bullet to James Jones in the second quarter and floated a perfect screen pass to back Brandon Jackson who scored from 16 yards in the third quarter.
A sterling performance from unheralded rookie running back James Starks provided balance to the Green Bay attack. Starks, the 193rd player chosen as a sixth round pick in the draft out of Buffalo, gained 123 yards on 23 carries.
With Starks gaining tough yards with his inside running, Green Bay was able to control the ball and keep drives alive with third down conversions.
“To win week in, week out, you have to have a combination of run and pass,” McCarthy said.
The Packers entered the game ranked a lowly 24th in rushing while Philadelphia ranked fifth but outgained them on the ground 138 yards to 82.
“He was a hot hand,” McCarthy said about Starks. “James was a difference maker.”
(Editing by Julian Linden)