Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop sacks Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick during the first quarter of their NFC wild-card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011. The Packers planned to pressure Vick all day, and did just that. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette
♦ Cornerback Charles Woodson on Tramon Williams' interception of Michael Vick that sealed the Packers' win in the final minute: "I was telling Tramon, I don’t think Vick got the memo that you can actually fly, so he tried to throw it high and give their guy a chance to get it. I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that can jump higher than him. That was huge."
♦ Safety Nick Collins on winning a playoff game: "It’s been awhile, this is only my second win in the playoffs, I’m just excited. We’re heading in the right direction. We started the year, we all had a goal and that’s win the world championship. We got to go to Atlanta and try to get another victory."
♦ Defensive end Cullen Jenkins on the defensive plan to keep Vick in the pocket: "It was a lot of holding the lane and keeping him contained in the pocket, not letting him get out, especially we didn’t want him to get out to his left where he does a lot of scrambling and throwing. We were really trying to keep him contained. I think it worked pretty good. We talked about it with the young guys, this wasn’t a game where you go in worrying about sacks or trying to get sacks, we just wanted to do what it took to keep him contained and win the game."
♦ Woodson: "We expected to get off the field. We expected to come away with the win. The game is up to us to go out there and get a stop and we felt good about that."
♦ Packers linebacker Clay Matthews: "Our backs have been against the wall for the majority of the year defensively speaking. We just came out and played the way we know how. It shouldn't surprise anybody with the way we played."
♦ Williams: "We know if we don't hurt ourselves defensively, not too many people can move the ball all the way down the field on us. We've just pretty much been doing it alll year, and that's something we take pride in."
♦ Coach Andy Reid on the loss: "I told the team that I appreciated the fight that they gave. We just have to do a better job as coaches and players all the way around, and on third down in particular. That summed this game up on both sides of the ball. We just didn't do good enough, in particular on third down and in our kicking game. We have a lot of things to evaluate."
♦ Kicker David Akers, who missed two field goals, on this being the toughest moment of his career: "Sure, football-wise, yes. It's the playoffs and you've got to do your job to keep things going. It's a tough day."
♦ Michael Vick, on why the offense took so long to find its groove: "I mean Green Bay has a good defense. They have a great scheme and have a lot of good players over there, and they played fast."
PHILADELPHIA – If nothing else, the first round of the NFL playoffs revealed the stark difference between the Green Bay Packers of the 2009 season and the Packers of 2010.
A year ago, their defense hemorrhaged against first-rate quarterbacks, including giving up 379 yards passing and five touchdown passes to Kurt Warner in an overtime loss of a wild-card game at Arizona.
This year? Different story.
The always frightening Michael Vick came into Sunday at the helm of a Philadelphia Eagles offense that is among the NFL’s best. But unlike a year ago, the Packers are moving on to the divisional round of the postseason because they had the goods to deal with an explosive offense that ranked No. 2 in the league in yards and No. 2 in points.
With the right mix of playmakers, blitzes, coverages and spies, the Packers kept Vick from taking control of the game and then made the clinching interception in the end zone with 33 seconds to play in their 21-16 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
“It’s tough for teams to score on us, I don’t care who they are,” Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “Vick is probably the worst – we’re so happy to have that behind, he’s such a headache to prepare for because he can throw it and run it. We do a good job keeping people out of the end zone. I think we’re much better this year.”
The win means the sixth-seeded Packers (11-6) will play at top-seeded Atlanta (13-3) next Saturday night in an NFC divisional-round re-match of a game earlier this season that the Falcons won at the Georgia Dome, 20-17. The winner advances to the NFC championship game against the winner of the conference’s other divisional-round game, Chicago vs. Seattle.
The Falcons are a daunting 20-2 at the Georgia Dome in games started by their fine young quarterback, Matt Ryan.
“We feel like we left a lot of football out on the field in that (first Atlanta) game,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. “We had points defensively where we could have gotten off the field, third-down situations, missed tackles – our tackling was probably the poorest we’ve been all season. We don’t foresee that happening again. We look forward to going down there.”
To get there, the Packers’ charge on Sunday was to make Vick a pocket passer, at least as much as is possible against the game’s premier scrambler. Though Vick has been a much more accurate passer in his second incarnation in the NFL, he’s still at his most dangerous when he’s gashing a defense with a big scramble on one play, then breaking out of the pocket and throwing a dart down field to his explosive receivers (DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin) or tight end (Brent Celek) on the next.
A big part of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ plan was for the pass rushers to hold their lanes whether it was a conventional four-man rush, or a five- or six-man blitz, and sacrifice possible sacks to prevent Vick from getting outside the pocket. The Packers also did all they could to push the left-handed Vick to his right, like defending a left-handed scorer in basketball. That’s why Capers dialed up several blitzes overloading Vick’s left.
“Even if you’re in the blitz lanes, some of the times (Vick) still can break loose,” Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “But we definitely made an emphasis of staying in our blitz lanes and not letting him escape left, that’s where he wants to escape. Play defenses where we can keep our eye on him, zone. And also being in throwing lanes. The combination of things helped us contain him.”
The Packers sacked Vick three times and held him to a passer rating of only 79.9 points, a full 20 points less than his regular-season rating of 100.2 points, which was fourth-best in the NFL. He also gained only 33 yards on eight runs, with a long scramble of 14 yards. That counts as an excellent day against a quarterback who can dominate games with his running.
Capers also kept Vick off balance by varying defensive calls like a veteran pitcher mixing up his pitches. Capers played his nickel or dime passing down defenses virtually the entire game and blitzed regularly but not all the time. He also occasionally deployed either cornerback Charles Woodson or outside linebacker Erik Walden to mirror Vick as a spy, on maybe one-quarter of the defensive snaps.
“It’s all about limiting Vick’s playmaking ability,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said.
While Vick was only able to flash his abilities, his counterpart, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, played a steady, mistake-free game.
Rodgers didn’t have a huge day – his 180 yards passing was his season low aside from when he was knocked out of the game at Detroit because of a concussion in the first half – but he didn’t throw an interception and made enough plays to put up three touchdowns. Probably his best was a tough scramble and throw for a nine-yard touchdown to receiver James Jones that put the Packers ahead 14-0 in the second quarter.
The key, though, was the Packers’ defense being good enough to help make that lead stand.
Vick had a final shot at winning the game in the final 1:45 of the game. But on first down from the Packers’ 27, he made the mistake Rodgers refused to and floated a ball to receiver Riley Cooper on a go route to the end zone. Vick might not have realized that the Packers’ best cover man, cornerback Tramon Williams, was the matchup, and Williams easily out-jumped Cooper for the game-clinching interception.
“(Vick) just tossed it up, Tramon went up, made a (heck) of a play,” safety Nick Collins said, “and we’re moving on.”