In my first year of a long career as a daily newspaper sports journalist spanning more than four decades, a College Hall of Fame football coach told me something I have always remembered.
“Bob, the last 2 minutes of the first half and the first 2 minutes of the second half often determine the outcome.”
I stored those 22 words in my memory bank back then and discovered quickly that he was right. Through years of covering football games at all levels, it has proved true many times.
That simple sentence spoke loud and clear into what is now my old pea-sized brain again while watching the Green Bay Packers-LA Rams NFC semifinal playoff game on Saturday.
The Rams had just cut the Packers lead to 16-10 on a 4-yard TD pass to Van Jefferson with only 29 seconds left to play in the first half. Rather than taking a knee for the final 29 ticks, future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers marched his Packers from their own 25-yard line close enough for a 39-yard Mason Crosby field goal and a 19-10 breather entering the locker room at halftime. Green Bay’s aggressiveness obviously caught the Rams defense by surprise and knocked the wind from their sails.
Green Bay maintained its momentum on the opening series of the second half when running back Aaron Jones exploded up the middle on the first play from scrimmage for a 60-yard gain. Jones eventually scored on a 1-yard TD run for a 25-10 cushion with 12:10 still remaining in the third quarter.
Oh sure, the Rams fought back and eventually made it a one-possession game, 25-18, with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the third period. But the Packer “D” shut them out in the fourth quarter, and wide receiver Allen Lazard sealed the 32-18 victory with a 58-yard touchdown reception from Rodgers.
Next up, it’s the top-seeded Packers, now 14-3 overall, entertaining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) at Lambeau Field on Sunday for the NFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl LV.
Packer fans remember all too well the first time the two teams met this season. The Bucs dealt the Pack its first loss of the season in Week 6 of regular play. It was Green Bay's first loss of the season after a 4-0 start and one of only three losses on the year. The 38-10 setback was also the only time the Packers, who own the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL, were held under 22 points.
Kickoff is 2:05 p.m. CT., on Fox-TV.
Meanwhile, I’ll be interested to see how that 4-minute window plays out.