Ever find yourself running in your sleep but getting nowhere?
The Packers provided a vivid example of that early in their wild-card matchup with Washington at FedEx Field. Had Green Bay’s offense not awakened in the second quarter, the team’s 35-18 victory would have been nothing more than a dream.
For nearly 18 minutes Sunday, the Packers labored to move the ball. It was yet another instance of the team’s inability to make inroads at the outset of games in recent weeks.
But rally Green Bay did. In fact, the 11-point deficit the Packers overcame was the greatest by the team in a road playoff game.
The Packers’ first 15 plays were offensive. They netted 17 yards, one first down and carried them no farther than their own 32-yard line.
None of their first four drives lasted longer than one minute, 47 seconds. Their second possession ended in a safety after quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked in the end zone by linebacker Preston Smith.
The Packers started running backs Eddie Lacy and John Kuhn, receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones and tight end Richard Rodgers at the skill positions. They tried other combinations – mixing in receivers Davante Adams and Jared Abbrederis and running back James Starks — with little success.
Almost three minutes into the second quarter, the situation appeared hopeless. Lacy, Cobb and Starks had combined for four yards rushing on five carries. Rodgers was 2-of-9 for 18 yards passing, having been sacked once for a loss of five yards.
The Packers’ longest gain was an 11-yard Rodgers-to-Jones pass on the first play of the game. It was the team’s only first down.
Most disconcerting, Green Bay trailed 11-0.
Only once before in a playoff history that spans 80 years and 52 games had the Packers generated so few yards after 15 plays. Newspaper accounts suggest Green Bay had a mere 16 against the Bears in December 1941, a game in which Chicago romped 33-14.
Slow starts haven’t always doomed the Packers in the playoffs. Green Bay has gained fewer than 50 yards on its first 15 plays nine times in the postseason and its record in those games is 4-5.
In Washington, Rodgers and Co. got rolling with a monstrous second quarter. The team piled up 160 yards and scored 17 points.
It was the fourth-most productive second quarter in terms of yards produced in franchise playoff history.
The rally began on Green Bay’s 16th offensive play. With one pass – Rodgers to Jones – the team gained twice as many yards (34) as it had on 15 previous plays.
The Packers scored on all three of their second-quarter possessions. They produced positive yards on 19 of 25 plays and led 17-11 at halftime.
The team didn’t waver after Washington went ahead 18-17 in the third quarter. Rodgers directed an 11-play, 80-yard advance that put Green Bay up 24-18. Lacy had runs of 11 (on fourth down) and 30 to set up Starks’ four-yard TD run.
Green Bay tacked on 11 points in the final period. Lacy counted on a two-yard run and Mason Crosby booted a 29-yard field goal with 4:39 remaining.
In staging the comeback, the Packers gained 329 yards on 54 plays. Rodgers was 19-for-27 for 192 yards and two scores (115.0 rating), while Lacy and Starks combined for 113 yards rushing on 20 carries (5.65 average) with one touchdown apiece.
The flurry of activity begs the question: Why does the offense wait so long to get going? Green Bay failed to produce 100 yards in its first 15 plays in each of its final 10 regular-season games, the longest drought since Mike McCarthy became coach in 2006.
The low occurred in a 30-20 win Oakland. There Green Bay gained just 18 yards on its first 15 plays but jumped out ahead 14-0 thanks to timely interceptions by Micah Hyde and Damarious Randall.
By prevailing in Washington, Green Bay became the first NFL team this century to win a playoff game after generating fewer than 20 yards on its first 15 offensive plays. The previous low – 22 yards — was posted by the Eagles, who beat the Giants 23-11 on Jan. 11, 2009.
The Packers rallied from 10 down to beat the Lions 28-24 on Jan. 8, 1994 in Brett Favre’s first postseason start. Until Sunday, that had been the team’s greatest comeback in a road playoff game.
Eric Goska is a Packers historian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Less than 50 on 15
Playoff games in which the Packers generated fewer than 50 yards on their first 15 plays.
Dec. 14, 1941
Jan. 10, 2016
Jan. 16, 1994
Dec. 24, 1972
Jan. 5, 2014
Dec. 23, 1967
Dec. 12, 1997
Dec. 26, 1965
Jan. 10, 2010