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Rodgers works Hail Mary magic, Packers beat Giants 38-13

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers, master of the Hail Mary pass, struck again in another big moment.

Rodgers overcame a sluggish start and finished with four touchdown passes, including a momentum-swinging 42-yard heave to Randall Cobb at the end of the second quarter, to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 38-13 win Sunday over the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game.

The Packers move on to face the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round next week.



Rodgers was 25 of 40 for 362 yards, continuing a remarkable run of quarterback play that helped the Packers win their final six games of the regular season to take the NFC North. Cobb finished with five receptions for 116 yards and three scores.

For much of the first half, the Giants’ defense flustered the two-time NFL MVP. They got pressure on Rodgers and the secondary blanketed the Packers’ talented receiving corps , and a few boos even rained down from the stands after New York built a 6-0 lead on two field goals by Robbie Gould.



As it turned out, Rodgers was just getting started.

“We hit a Hail Mary. That got us going,” Rodgers said.

Green Bay scored two touchdowns in the final 2:20 of the second quarter, punctuated by another remarkable desperation pass by Rodgers.

With the ball on the Giants 42, Rodgers took the snap with 6 seconds left. He rolled to his right before heaving a throw from about the Packers 47. Cobb somehow got behind three defensive backs near the back of the end zone to haul in the pass, getting both feet down before falling out of bounds.

“They boxed us out better than we played it,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. “It was a heck of a throw, heck of a catch.”

The Giants looked stunned, just like how the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals looked last season after Rodgers pulled off similar feats.

“Davante (Adams) made a bunch of plays,” Rodgers said. “And Randall Cobb, who this offense has been missing for a long time. We’re better with 18 on the field and he showed it tonight.”

Rodgers and Cobb weren’t done.

They connected again on a 30-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter for a 21-13 lead. That score answered a Giants scoring drive that briefly cut the deficit to one.

“Second half we got back to some rhythm throws and I was getting better on my timing, getting the ball out of my hand quickly,” Rodgers said. “No negative-yard plays, the offensive line blocked really well, regardless of the stats.”

A Packers defense ranked 21st in points allowed (24.3) coming into the game limited the production of Odell Beckham Jr., and the Giants’ receiving corps in spite of a battered secondary.

Beckham finished with four catches for 28 yards. Eli Manning was 23 of 44 for 299 yards, including the 41-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King in the third quarter.

But the Giants were plagued by a series of drops by their receivers .

“It’s a game inches, and we were just inches short on some of these plays, inches away from big plays,” Beckham said.

Rodgers began dissecting the secondary after coach Mike McCarthy had his quarterback roll more outside the pocket, and the Packers started working the middle of the field.

Cobb had a big night after missing the last two games of the regular season with an ankle injury. Adams had eight receptions for 125 yards and a score.

Top receiver Jordy Nelson was knocked out of the game with 11 minutes left in the second quarter with a rib injury.

Steelers 30, Dolphins 12

PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell spent the last two Januarys watching helplessly while the Pittsburgh Steelers tried to make a deep postseason run without him. The ever fluid running back made up for lost time Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

So did Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, the other members of Pittsburgh’s “Big Three” together in the playoffs for the first time.

Pounding away relentless at a defense that hardly seemed interested in stopping him at frigid Heinz Field, Bell ran for a franchise postseason record 167 yards and two scores . The Steelers overwhelmed the beaten-up and mistake-prone Miami Dolphins 30-12 on Sunday.

“We wanted to go out there and make a statement,” Bell said.

Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger, who wore a walking boot on his right foot afterward, more than wiped away the bitter aftertaste of a 30-15 whipping at the hands of the Dolphins in mid-October. Given a shot at redemption, Pittsburgh didn’t let it go to waste. The Steelers (12-5) led by two touchdowns before the game was 10 minutes old on long touchdown passes from Roethlisberger to Brown. Miami never got closer than 11.

“Le’Veon was beastly,” said Brown, who finished with five receptions for 124 yards and the two scores. “All day, controlling the line of scrimmage, just running guys over and finding a way to put the ball in the end zone. Any time he’s playing like that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”

Certainly, at least, teams like the Dolphins (10-7). Given a chance to prove their first playoff berth in eight years wasn’t a fluke despite being outgained and outscored during the regular season, Miami never found a rhythm. The problem wasn’t the single digit wind chill or a vicious hit absorbed by quarterback Matt Moore in the second quarter as much as it was the Steelers.

Pittsburgh sacked Moore five times, forced turnovers on three consecutive possessions in the middle of the game, and never really let the Dolphins up off the deck.

“It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over,” said Moore, completed 29 of 36 passes for 289 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “In the playoffs, you can’t make mistakes and that’s on me.”

Pittsburgh (12-5) ran off its eighth straight victory to set up a visit to AFC West champion Kansas City (12-4) next Sunday. The Steelers rolled by the Chiefs 43-14 on Oct. 2.

“We have to understand the same passion and dedication that we put in this week to beat Miami, that’s how Kansas City is going to try to beat us,” Bell said.

At least Bell will be around for the challenge. He missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons with knee injuries. All he did in his postseason debut was break Hall of Famer Franco Harris’ team mark for yards rushing in a playoff game. Harris ran for 158 yards in a Super Bowl win over Minnesota 42 years ago. Bell reached that total by the end of the third quarter.

The Dolphins tried to hype themselves up by running around in shirt sleeves in the single-digit wind chill during warmups. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier did them one better, racing around shirtless — as if to send a message that his team is plenty comfortable playing this time of year.

It sure looked like it.

The Steelers scored on their first three possessions, and Miami’s playoff victory drought was well on its way to 17 years and counting. Miami running back Jay Ajayi managed just 33 yards on 16 carries, or 171 yards less than he piled up against Pittsburgh in October.

UH-OH

Roethlisberger completed his first 10 passes and finished 13 of 18 for 189 yards with two scores and two interceptions. He also sported a walking boot on his right foot while talking to the media after the game as a preventative measure. Roethlisberger tweaked the ankle while throwing an interception on Pittsburgh’s penultimate drive. He sprinted off the field afterward and said he will be ready to go against the Chiefs.

GRITTY MOORE

Moore appeared to be out of it when Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree launched into him midway through the second quarter just after Moore released a pass. Moore lay on his back for several moments before slowly getting up and making his way to the sideline. Amazingly, he missed only one play after getting cleared by an independent neurologist as well as a team doctor. The 32-year-old stressed it looked worse than it felt. Dupree was hit with a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.

“I just really needed a second,” Moore said. “With all the protocols now with the NFL, I had to do all that. It was fine. I had to gather myself for a second there. I was able to do that and went back in.”

INJURIES

The Dolphins badly missed cornerback Byron Maxwell (ankle), out a third straight game. Miami held Brown to four receptions for 39 yards in October, but he topped that total before the game was three minutes old.

Pittsburgh avoided any major concerns heading to the divisional round, though tight end Ladarius Green (concussion) was inactive for a third straight week.

UP NEXT

Miami: The Dolphins showed signs of progress in coach Adam Gase’s first season and may be the AFC East team best positioned to challenge New England in 2017.

Steelers: Pittsburgh’s only playoff visit to Kansas City came in 1993, a loss to the Joe Montana-led Chiefs 27-24 in overtime.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP—NFL


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