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Lambeau crowd fans Aaron Rodgers’ emotions in playoff victory over Rams

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers passes against the Rams during the second half Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers passes against the Rams during the second half Saturday at Lambeau Field.
(Mike Roemer / Associated Press)

Even though the Rams barely laid a hand on Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback was plenty touched.

The emotions welled up in him the moment he ran out of the Lambeau Field tunnel for the NFC divisional playoff game Saturday.

“Just thinking about what we’ve been through got me emotional with the crowd out there today,” Rodgers said after the 32-18 victory by the Packers.

After a season in which there were few to no spectators at the historic venue because of coronavirus concerns, the Packers allowed 7,000 fans as well as a few hundred front-line workers and first responders to attend. They were neatly separated into small pockets of people, yet they made the place sound like a full house.

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“Talk about just pure joy running out of that tunnel,” he said. “We’ve had a few hundred for a couple games, but it felt like 50,000 when I ran out. It was such a special moment. Forgot how much you truly miss having a crowd there.”

Meanwhile, the crowd of remaining teams is thinning. The top-seeded Packers will play the winner of the Tampa Bay-New Orleans game Sunday for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Rodgers has advanced to the NFC championship game for the fifth time in his career, but this is the first time he’ll be playing it at home. His previous four appearances came on the road. The Packers won the first of those, in Chicago during the 2010 season on their way to winning the Lombardi Trophy, but lost the last three, including a blowout loss at San Francisco last season.

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According to ESPN Stats & Info, Saturday marked the second time that a Rodgers-led team has scored 30-plus points in the playoffs against the No. 1 scoring defense. He joins Hall of Famer Roger Staubach as the only quarterback to have done that multiple times.

Then again, the Rams defense wasn’t close to the same without Aaron Donald, who spent much of the game on the sideline because of an injured rib, and wasn’t the same phenomenal player when he was on the field. The Rams sorely missed his presence in the middle.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates after running for a touchdown against the Rams on Jan. 16, 2021.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates after running for a touchdown against the Rams in the second quarter Saturday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Rodgers didn’t want to delve too deeply into which team the Packers might face in the championship — there’s an entire week of hype ahead for that — but we do know that, at 37, Rodgers will be the “young” quarterback in the game. The Saints’ Drew Brees is 42, and the Buccaneers’ Tom Brady is 43. Regardless, all three are headed to Canton.

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The Packers played both the Saints and Buccaneers in a three-game stretch this season, with a 37-30 victory over New Orleans followed by a 38-10 loss to Tampa Bay.

Although without star receiver Davante Adams, Rodgers threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns against the Saints, who are 1-2 at Lambeau during the past decade.

Rams rookies Cam Akers and Van Jefferson excelled in the NFL playoffs, which might offer a preview of what’s to come in the years ahead.

If the Saints were to win Sunday and advance, they likely would hear a familiar refrain — that they’re a team built to play inside. They would have a chance to discard that label with a win in the bitter cold of Green Bay. Of course, Brees played collegiately in the cold at Purdue, and coach Sean Payton would be delighted to dispel the notion that his is a dome team.

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Tampa Bay dominated the Packers in their meeting this season, despite falling behind, 10-0, in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Buccaneers intercepted two Rodgers passes within a three-pass span, quickly took a 14-10 lead, and never looked back.

The Buccaneers built a 28-10 lead by halftime, and Tom Brady turned in his first breakout game with his new team, connecting with his favorite New England target, Rob Gronkowski, five times for 78 yards.

No matter what the matchup is in the NFC title game, it figures to be an epic one. The visiting team will be decided Sunday, whereas Rodgers and his teammates can momentarily sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor. They are home, at last.

The Rams’ 32-18 divisional-round playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers on Saturday by the numbers.

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