GREEN BAY — Many around the NFL thought Sunday's playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks would be a changing of the guard.
This was the time, the experts said, that 36-year-old Aaron Rodgers of the Packers would give way to 31-year-old Russell Wilson of the Seahawks as the top quarterback in the NFC. Wilson, they said, was doing the things — extending plays with his feet, completing deep balls, making clutch throws — that made Rodgers famous, only this season Wilson was doing them better than Rodgers.
Sunday night, Rodgers answered back.
Sharp all game long and twice delivering in critical third-down situations as the Packers offense ran out the clock against the onrushing Seahawks, Rodgers engineered a 28-23 victory over Seattle at Lambeau Field, putting Green Bay one game away from the Super Bowl.
The elusive Wilson was outstanding in leading Seattle's second-half comeback from an 18-point deficit, but it was Rodgers who ruled the day with a superlative effort that showed he is still the king among NFC quarterbacks. Whenever the Packers needed something, he delivered.
"Winning is always satisfying, but there are moments in the season that rank higher than others and this obviously is one of those moments," Rodgers said. "Based on the way their offense was moving the ball, I knew I was going to have to make some plays tonight. I felt good about my preparation and the performance. I felt really locked in from Wednesday on and practiced well and felt really good today all day. Just felt like today was going to be one of these type of performances."
Rodgers completed 16 of 27 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns, with a passer rating of 113.7. He led three 75-yard touchdown drives and one one of 60 yards.
But it was at the end when Rodgers showed he's still the master. Wilson got the Seahawks within five, but the Packers defense finally stopped Seattle. Hoping to run out the clock, Green Bay had the ball at its 20-yard line with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left.
On third-and-7 from the 23, Rodgers lofted a perfect strike between two defenders to wide receiver Davante Adams for a 32-yard gain. Later, the Packers faced a third-and-9 at Seattle's 45 when Rodgers found tight end Jimmy Graham on a crossing route for 9 yards and the game-clinching first down.
"I thought he made some clutch throws," coach Matt LaFleur said. "A good indication of really good quarterback play, look at the third down. It was one of the best performances we’ve had all year on third down, we were 9-of-13, I think it was. Just clutch throws and his ability to stand in there. He took a shot on that last play on the shallow cross to Jimmy. I thought he did an outstanding job."
Rodgers' effort had to be particularly satisfying because it came on the heels of four straight games in which his legendary accuracy suffered and his NFL-best career passer rating took a hit. That started the league-wide whispers that Rodgers was finally starting to show his age. It for sure wasn't lost on the ultra-competitive Rodgers that he was facing Wilson, whose resourcefulness mirrored his own.
"As opposed to our last game we played in Detroit, where I felt pretty good about most of the throws and statistically I was way off, I felt good about all the throws tonight," Rodgers said. "I felt good about the ball coming off of my hand. It’s one of those feelings that start to creep up during warm-ups where you really feel like you’re locked in."
There were other factors in Rodgers' recent downturn that were out of his control, but he showed Sunday that he still has it. He even included a rare quarterback sneak for a third-down conversion and a 14-yard run around end.
"It’s just typical Aaron," Adams said. "People have down days, not always going to be perfect. I didn’t see anything that was drastically different. He didn’t come in and meditate every day, he did his thing, and he’s Aaron. So at any point, he can blow up and have a game like that. So that’s what we hang our hat on, is him being able to just be explosive at any point."
Adams was Rodgers' partner in crime during the game, catching eight passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. All eight of Adams' catches went for first down. Adams killed the Seahawks on corner routes, with touchdowns of 20 and 40 yards in addition to the late 32-yarder.
"We put the world on our shoulders," Adams said. "It’s something that we came into this game knowing that it was going to have to be a 12-and-17-type game, one of those ones that we’ve done in the past. ... When we get on the same page and we’re able to find each other and get on the right wavelength early, I think that it’s really tough to beat this team."
We'll find out Sunday when Green Bay, the No. 2 seed, plays at top-seeded San Francisco, a team that drubbed it in late November. Now Rodgers is back in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2016 season.
"He deserves it," Adams said. "He’s a hell of a player. We all know what he’s done in his career. He’s definitely hungry for another Super Bowl. He deserves it, so we’re doing everything in our power to put him in that position."
It appears Rodgers is doing the same.
Photos: Green Bay Packers fend off Seattle Seahawks to earn trip to NFC title game