Starks marvels with ironman effort

SHAWN CLARKE, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 2:10 PM ET

Sharing a similar surname to Tony Stark, aka comic book icon Iron Man, often brings out some witty and creative storylines.

Green Bay Packers rookie James Starks has an extra consonant at the end of his name, but that won't take anything away from his heroic performance in Sunday's 21-16 win in a Wild Card matchup at Philadelphia.

Starks' powered suit of armor consisted of a helmet and shoulder pads, equipment he used efficiently in grinding out 123 yards on 23 carries. A sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Buffalo, Starks took pressure off of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and made head coach Mike McCarthy's plan of running the football a major success.

"He established a hot hand early, and I rode it,"McCarthy said after the Packers ended a four-game road losing streak in the playoffs. "James was a difference-maker."

The Packers compiled 138 rushing yards to Philadelphia's 82, and will now head to Atlanta for a Saturday night showdown at the Georgia Dome. Starks made that possible and broke the previous Green Bay rookie record for rushing yards in a playoff game. Travis Williams had 88 yards back on Dec. 23, 1967 against the Los Angeles Rams.

Starks' road to glory was a bumpy one, however, as he missed the first 11 games of the season due to a hamstring injury. He appeared in just three games during the regular season and was well-rested for Sunday.

On top of eclipsing the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career, Starks hauled in a pair of passes for nine yards. After the win at a chilly Lincoln Financial Field, Starks quipped about how hard work pays off and that he was ready to go when his name was called. Eagles field announcer Dan Baker certainly got used to saying his name. The only aspect missing from Starks' performance was getting into the end zone, but that shouldn't matter because he's the one who got the Packers in scoring territory in the first place.

"I'm a motivated person when I'm not playing or not getting carries," Starks said postgame. "I'm just going to work hard. I want to play. I love this game. I love football, and I'm going to work hard regardless."

Green Bay wasn't supposed to run the football as efficient as it did Sunday and has been criticized for being one-dimensional, with Rodgers doing most of the work with his arm. Starks quieted the majority of naysayers and now gives the Packers a formidable ground attack heading into this week's Divisional Playoff game against the Falcons. Brandon Jackson, the team's leading rusher in the regular season, was held to 10 yards on three carries Sunday.

RODGERS GETS OFF PLAYOFF SCHNEID

Rodgers was supposed to beat the Eagles all by himself, and with some help from his receiving corps.

Turns out Rodgers did just enough to earn his first playoff win, completing 18-of-27 passes for 180 yards and three touchdown passes. A pair of touchdown strikes by Rodgers in the first half and hard running by Starks sent Philadelphia to a hole it could never get out of, much like Buffalo Bill's basement well in the film "Silence of the Lambs."

Green Bay was a nightmare for the Eagles on third down, converting 8-of-13 third-down opportunities. It was the second-best output on third down behind an impressive 10-of-15 clip against Dallas back in Week 9. Rodgers didn't throw any interceptions, but did have one of Green Bay's two lost fumbles.

"We cashed in on our opportunities in the red zone, 3-for-3," said Rodgers. "That's what we were looking for. When we break down a game and talk about our goals, it's being good on third down, being good in the red zone, and not turning the ball over. I had a turnover tonight, but the other couple we did a good job at."

The Packers made Philadelphia pay for being the worst red-zone defence in the league and are starting to see what Rodgers can do in the postseason. Rodgers was 28-of-42 for 422 yards, four TDs, an interception and a lost fumble in last year's 51-45 overtime loss at the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC wild card round. Rodgers set an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in his first two playoff starts, and is the first quarterback to throw for that many scoring strikes in a two-game span since Aaron Brooks of the Saints tossed six touchdown passes in 2000-01.

In leading Green Bay to its first playoff road win since topping San Francisco in the 1997 NFC Championship, Rodgers faces an even tougher task in the unfriendly confines of the Georgia Dome.

DEFENCE LIVES UP TO EXPECTATIONS

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers probably expected to see a lot more of Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who was held to 46 yards on 12 carries.

Capers' main concern, however, was devising a plan to stop elusive quarterback Michael Vick. On the very first play of the game, Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop blindsided the left-handed QB for a sack and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive end Jarius Wynn each contributed a sack of their own.

"It's about limiting Vick's big playmaking ability," Matthews said. "He loves to take deep shots, he loves to make big plays with his feet. It was more so corralling him, closing the pocket in on him and not letting him escape, and I think we did that today."

Vick was able to run for 33 yards and a score on eight carries, but was taken out of his comfort zone when wideout DeSean Jackson went down with a leg injury and never really contributed. Vick had a chance to lead the Eagles to a possible go-ahead score in the waning moments of the game, but another Packers Pro Bowl defender ended that hope. Cornerback Tramon Williams picked off a pass intended for rookie receiver Riley Cooper with 33 seconds remaining to set up the date with Atlanta.

"The route that he was running, he was pretty much jogging on the sideline for a while," Williams said. "We kind of bumped into each other and I looked back and I saw the ball coming. I knew I was going to be able to get it."

Williams credited his leaping ability to make the play, as the 5-foot-11 defender was able to jump in front of the 6-foot-4 Cooper. Fellow cornerback and All Pro Charles Woodson recognized how the Eagles receivers try to lull a defender into thinking they're not getting the ball, but take off mid-route for a big play.

Woodson and the rest of the Packers' secondary must prepare for a another playmaking wideout in Falcons receiver Roddy White.

UP NEXT: CLIPPING THE FALCONS

The NFC playoffs will run through the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons went 7-1 this season and are 20-2 with Matt Ryan under center. Atlanta's clearly the favourite right now to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and will throw a healthy mix of running back Michael Turner Green Bay's way.

Green Bay was able to shut down Philadelphia's ground game and took Vick off of his mark with a mix of blitzes and stunts from both the middle and around the ends. Look for Capers to devise a similar plan from Sunday's game to disrupt Ryan's timing in the pocket. Ryan has several outlets to go to, mainly White and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez.

"We've had a few ups and downs on this roller coaster of a year. But hopefully we're peaking at the right time," Matthews stated. "Three wins in a row, all playoff-like environments in which we need to win or else we go home. We've got another one on the road now in a very hostile environment. We feel good about where we're at. You can say we're dangerous but we're just playing at the level we know how."

Atlanta's defence isn't too shabby either and features two talented defensive backs in Brent Grimes and William Moore. Both defenders finished with five interceptions during the regular season. Green Bay's offensive line, which surrendered only two sacks in Philadelphia, should anticipate Falcons sack master John Abraham to come with a full head of steam. Abraham had 13 sacks this season, while linebacker Curtis Lofton led the team with 118 tackles.


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