LANDOVER, Md. — This was not the lesson the Washington Redskins had in mind.
A 35-18 wild-card loss to Green Bay on Sunday was painful because they expected so much more after a worst-to-first surge in the NFC East.
“We won a division and made the playoffs, and nobody picked us to win it,” nose tackle Terrance Knighton said.
In the next breath, Knighton added: “I learn from winning, not losing. I’m a winner.”
The Redskins (9-8) certainly could recognize why they fell to Green Bay (11-6) after building an early 11-0 lead, and also going ahead 18-17 in the third quarter.
Aaron Rodgers, after a slow start, and the Packers’ running game turned everything in the visitors’ favor.
“I’m disappointed over some missed opportunities,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Green Bay is a playoff-caliber team and they showed it tonight.”
Added cornerback DeAngelo Hall of Rodgers: “He was able to adapt and make changes. I think early on, we were able to get pressure on him, kind of had him flustered a little bit.
“But he’s one of the great quarterbacks in this league for a reason. He was able to kind change the game plan up, go to a little bit more of a hurry-up style of offense, kind of caught us off-balance a little bit.
“And they just kept trucking. They kept their foot on the pedal. When you’re facing a team like that, you can’t give them free opportunities, and we definitely gave them a couple free opportunities that they took advantage of.”
Rodgers got plenty of help from running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks, and veteran receiver James Jones. The Redskins also couldn’t protect Cousins in the final three periods, when they were outscored 35-13. Green Bay had four of its six sacks in the second half.
“That first quarter, we had some confidence,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “We were rolling there for a second. And then they hit a couple plays, and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
Indeed it did as the Packers completed a sweep of the wild-card round by the road teams, an NFL first since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990.
“When you get into playoffs, you don’t have to talk about the regular season no more,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy noted. “It’s the way you need to play, and we’re going to have to play that way moving forward.”
Rodgers opened 1 for 8, and the Packers’ first four drives ended punt, safety, punt, punt. They had all of 11 yards after one quarter.
But trailing 11-0 early in the second quarter, two-time NFL MVP Rodgers and the Packers suddenly began to gain yards in chunks and put points on the board they had been missing while losing six of their final 10 games and letting the NFC North title slip away.
Green Bay will play at No. 2 seed Arizona on Saturday night. In the other NFC game next weekend, the No. 1 seed Carolina Panthers will host the wild-card Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Washington had won four straight games, but its season ended without a single victory over a team that finished with a winning record.
Rodgers finished 21 for 36 for 210 yards and no interceptions. Cousins, making his first career playoff start after a breakthrough season, was 29 for 46 for 329 yards. He threw for one touchdown and lost one fumble.
Green Bay compiled its highest point total since a season-high 38 in Week 3. It scored on five consecutive possessions in one stretch: four touchdowns and a field goal.
Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams in the end zone en route to a 17-11 halftime lead.
In the second half, Starks scored from 4 yards and Lacy from 2. After gaining 17 yards on nine carries in the first half, Green Bay finished with more than 140 yards rushing.
The game was barely 4 1/2 minutes old when Washington led 2-0 on its first postseason safety since 1984. Rookie linebacker Preston Smith got to Rodgers in the end zone for his sixth sack in the past four games.
The Redskins went ahead 5-0 on Dustin Hopkins’ 25-yard field goal, but the lead could have been larger. DeSean Jackson caught a pass and initially was ruled to have scored, but replay showed the ball never crossed the goal line.
Later, Cousins connected with tight end Jordan Reed for a 24-yard score and, after a missed extra-point attempt, it was 11-0.
That was when Rodgers, the MVP of the 2011 Super Bowl, turned things around.