After months of offensive stagnation, the Packers rediscovered their offensive identity Sunday. They lit up Washington for a 35-18 playoff victory, earning the chance to take on the Cardinals in the divisional round.
Though the game ended with a Green Bay blowout, it started far differently. Washington shut out the Packers through the opening 21 minutes while producing 11 points of its own. Despite making his first start in the postseason, Kirk Cousins threw the ball all around the yard, connecting with Jordan Reed for multiple large gains.
Cousins nearly gave Washington a 9-0 lead in the first quarter, but wideout DeSean Jackson foolishly failed to extend the ball over the goal line.
Jackson's error proved to be the turning point in the game, as the Packers held Cousins and the offense to just a field goal on that drive. When the Packers offense finally caught fire in the second quarter, the lead was easily surmountable.
Unsurprisingly, it was Aaron Rodgers who led the charge for Green Bay. From the start of the second quarter onward, Rodgers completed 20 of his 29 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 111.1 rating. Rodgers' receivers also stepped up their play, with James Jones hauling in seven passes, most of them contested, for 81 yards. Even the much-maligned Davante Adams made two big plays -- an acrobatic sideline reception on third down and a touchdown -- before exiting with a knee injury.
In the end, the rejuvenated Packers offense proved too much for Washington, which allowed 17 uncontested points and produced only one score itself in the second half.
1. Green Bay's offensive line held up in pass protection
Injures have decimated the Packers' offensive line in recent weeks. Left tackle David Bakhtiari has missed multiple games with an ankle injury, forcing the team to roll out Don Barclay on the blindside with disastrous results. Green Bay even tried shifting out left guard Josh Sitton to tackle, but he fared little better.
With Bakhtiari ruled out again on Sunday, the Packers needed a new plan. They found one with reserve lineman JC Tretter.
Tretter hadn't played left tackle since his days at Cornell, but with no better alternative, he toughed it out for his team.
He struggled early on, giving up pressure with the Packers backed up against the goal line. Washington sacked Rodgers in the end zone for the game's first points.
However, Tretter played more than admirably in the snaps following that play. Along with the rest of Green Bay's offensive line, Tretter gave up no sacks and only occasional pressure, allowing Rodgers and his receivers to get into a rhythm for the first time in months. The Packers even had their biggest ground gain of the day when running Eddie Lacy in the gap between Tretter and Sitton.
It remains unclear whether Bakhtiari can suit up next week, but if he can't, the Packers at least know they have a capable replacement.
2. Kirk Cousins didn't shrink under the spotlight
Washington's season may have ended Sunday, but at least the team has some reason to believe it has the right man under center.
In his first playoff start, Cousins showed why many expect him to sign a lucrative contract this offseason. He mostly avoided costly mistakes and kept the offense moving for most of the game. His connections with tight end Jordan Reed tormented the Packers defense throughout the afternoon, producing nine receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown. Cousins also showed off his athleticism and intelligence, taking advantage of a light Green Bay defensive front by calling his own number near the end zone.
Overall, Cousins finished the game with 29 completions on 46 attempts for 329 yards and two touchdowns, not enough to topple the Packers, but enough to make Washington optimistic for the future.
3. Green Bay's offense finally straightens out in second quarter
Offensive struggles have hindered the Packers for most of the season, and through the first quarter the results looked fairly similar. Rodgers failed to connect on seven straight passes, and the offense couldn't have performed worse on third down.
Aaron Rodgers finishes 1st quarter 1-of-8 (12.5%). It's worst completion pct for Rodgers in any quarter in which he attempted 5+ passes- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016
Packers 0-of-5 on 3rd down. Aaron Rodgers 0-of-4 passing, with a sack on 3rd down.- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016
At one point, the Packers had produced just 11 yards in 12 plays, far from a reasonable output, but par for the course during much of the year.
Then, just when it seemed Green Bay was in for another long day, everything started to click in the second quarter. Rodgers connected with James Jones for a 34-yard bomb that kickstarted the team's first touchdown drive. The Packers followed it up with two more scoring drives, including the go-ahead touchdown to Davante Adams.
The sudden explosion of points doesn't mean the Packers have overcome their issues, but it at least suggests that they should put forth a better effort against the Cardinals next week.
Over three months have passed since the Packers last lit up the scoreboard so frequently:
32 points is the most for the Packers since Week 3 when they scored 38 against the Chiefs- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 11, 2016
The Packers' win also completed an unlikely feat for wild-card teams: It was the first time all four road teams have won on wild card weekend since the 2002 realignment.