There are no words truly capable of describing the NFC Divisional Game between the Packers and Cowboys, likely the best game the NFL has witnessed since Green Bay’s epic loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the same round of last season’s playoffs.
Green Bay jumped out to a commanding 21-3 lead in the first half as Rodgers led touchdown drives (including this 34-yard beauty to Richard Rodgers) on the team’s first three possessions of the game. The Packers were cruising, and with Dallas led by two rookies with zero postseason games under their respective belts, it felt like the game was slipping away. And then – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – the offense took its foot off the gas, the defense started giving up chunk plays, and Dallas slowly crept back into the game.
As Dallas continued to fight and eventually tied the game at 31 on a 52-yard field goal with 35 seconds to go, memories of agonizing past playoff losses surely rushed to the minds of the Packer faithful. But for once, Green Bay held tough, fought tooth and nail, and managed to hang on, 34-31. With ice in his veins, Mason Crosby hit the game-winning 51-yard field goal as the clock expired, which, per Elias Sports, now stands as the longest game-winner in NFL postseason history.
Saying it was a roller coaster of a game would be an extreme and unfair understatement. Down 21-3 in the second quarter, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott led a quick four-play Dallas drive that ended with this perfect Dez Bryant 40-yard score. Christine Michael muffed the ensuing kickoff, setting Green Bay up in a tight spot and eventually giving Dallas great field position. The Cowboys would get a field goal, narrowing the score to 21-13 at halftime.
In the second half, Green Bay picked right back up where it left off as Rodgers led a quick six-play drive that ended in a Jared Cook touchdown. On the drive, Rodgers went 6/6 for 75 yards and the touchdown, which came on a perfectly executed play-action fake by Rodgers on the two yard line. It was only Cook’s second touchdown of the year and the first of his career in the playoffs.
Micah Hyde thwarted Dallas’ next drive with one of the most impressive interceptions in recent memory, jumping a Cole Beasley screen and keeping Dallas from putting any more points on the board. But up 28-13 and with an opportunity to potentially end the game, Cowboy safety Jeff Heath (and former college teammate of Jeff Janis) made a diving interception on third down. It was an impressive play, one that entirely swung the momentum towards the Cowboys and simultaneously gave Dallas good field position. It ended Rodgers streak of 318 passes without an interception (and 24 touchdown passes), a streak only Tom Brady (335) has topped in the history of the league.
Dak used the momentum to lead an impressive 10-play touchdown drive, and Green Bay had to punt it back after Rodgers got sacked on third-and-five by safety Barry Church. At this point the Packers barely clung to a 28-20 lead, with nearly ten minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Packer corner LaDarius Gunter was overmatched by Dez Bryant (9 catches, 132 yards, 2 touchdowns) who had his season high in receiving yards on the day and was simply open too often in both zone and man-to-man situations. Despite being in solid position, Gunter committed a crucial pass interference on third-and-eight to keep Dallas’ game-tying drive alive with five minutes to go. Bryant beat Gunter for a touchdown on an inside slant route with 4:08 left, narrowing the score to 28-26. Dak ran in a well-executed shotgun draw for the two-point conversion, tying the score at 28-28 and sending Packers fans horrific memories of the 2015 NFC Championship Game.
Rodgers took over on his own 25 with four minutes to go and converted a first down to Davante Adams to move the chains. But Adams’ ankle got twisted under the tackle, and he was slow to get up off the ground. Rodgers converted a second-and-one at midfield to bring the game to the two-minute warning, and to the relief of many, Adams jogged back onto the field.
Rodgers inexplicably threw up an interception on the next play, but Dallas was flagged for a huge pass interference. McCarthy predictably ran the ball on second down to force Dallas to take a timeout, and rookie Jason Spriggs missed a block, resulting in a brutal five-yard loss. After an incompletion on third-and-13, Mason Crosby trotted on the field to attempt a 56-yard field goal. With the game potentially on the line, he drilled a knuckleball that went through the uprights. It’s his longest made field goal this season.
Prescott completed two straight passes to begin the Cowboys’ ensuing drive, setting the team up with second-and-ten at Green Bay’s 40 yard line with 48 ticks left on the clock. Dallas picked up a heavy blitz and Dak found Cole Beasley for a seven-yard gain. Clay Matthews (hurry) and Nick Perry (deflection) combined to make the third-down stop, but Dan Bailey had no problem tying the game with his 52-yard field goal. When you get to the end of this story, make sure to remember that third down stop by Matthews and Perry.
Rodgers got the ball back with 35 seconds left and two timeouts and – even after the team had blown an 18-point led – a glimmer of hope. After an incompletion on first, a well-called Ty Montgomery screen gained 17 yards on second down to Green Bay’s own 42. But a missed blitz pickup on first down sent Green Bay back ten yards and forced Rodgers to take a timeout. It won’t go down in the stat sheet, but this was a hard blindside sack by Jeff Heath, and it was crucial that Rodgers was able to hold onto the football.
Then, on third-and-twenty, Rodgers rolled left, and – still moving left, mind you – threw across his body and somehow found Jared Cook for an incredible 35-yard sideline catch with three seconds remaining. Crosby lined up for a 51-yard field goal, the game on the line again. And again, as Packer fans across the world held their breath, he nailed it through the uprights to send the Packers to the NFC Championship Game.
Take a second to watch the sideline throw to Cook if you haven’t yet. Hell, even if you have.
There’s not another soul on this earth capable of making that throw across his body, while moving, and it took exemplary concentration and footwork for Cook to stay in bounds and make the catch. It felt like the perfect way to summarize this Packers season: backs against the wall, season on the line and seemingly about to fall apart, and then Rodgers waves his magic wand and makes the impossible happen.
It feels like every week it seems like this team is about to crumble, and then Rodgers makes one throw and everything changes. First it was the Jordy bomb against Chicago, then the Allison touchdown against Detroit, the Hail Mary last week, and finally, this. To this point, along with Crosby’s made field goal, it goes down as the play of the season.
That’s all for now. It’s ok if you’re still shaking like I am. Just hug your loved ones and thank your lucky stars you just witnessed one of the best games of the year. Green Bay’s magical season continues in Atlanta, where the Packers will take on the Falcons this coming Sunday at 3:05 pm Central Time.
Game Notes and Highlights
- Jared Cook had the best game of his career, finishing with six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, and of course the catch of the game. It goes to show what can happen when your GM is willing to make signings in free agency.
- Adams (five catches for 76 yards) and Randall Cobb (seven for 62) both played well, and along with Cook helped make up for Jordy Nelson’s absence. Jordy hopes to play next week at Atlanta.
- Morgan Burnett left the game in the first half with a quad injury and didn’t return.
The following statistics are all per Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted:
- Rodgers moved into fifth all-time in playoff passing touchdowns with 31. Tom Brady is first with 58 and counting. Rodgers moved into 8th in playoff passing yards, with Roethlisberger (7th) and Brady (1st) the only active quarterbacks ahead of him.
- Dez Bryant and Jason Witten both had their first postseason touchdown catches in today’s game (Dez had two).
- Dak became the first rookie quarterback (in the Super Bowl era) to throw for three or more touchdowns in a playoff game. His 302 passing yards are the second-most ever by a rookie in the postseason.
- The Cowboys trailed after the first quarter in five other games this season. This was the first time they lost.
- Green Bay is now 3-0 on the season when Ty Montgomery scores a rushing touchdown (he had two).
- Micah Hyde is the fourth player since 1982 (when sacks became a stat) to record a sack and an interception in the same game, joining Morgan Burnett, Sam Shields and LeRoy Butler.
- Per Elias Sports, today’s game was the first postseason game to feature three 50-yard field goals made in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.
- Rodgers now has two game-winning drives in the playoffs in his career. Both have come against the Cowboys.
- Rodgers’ per game averages over the eight-game winning streak: 298 passing yards, 2.75 touchdowns, 118.5 passer rating, only one interception. Unreal.
- Um, this:
- Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal gives him 23 consecutive made field goals in the postseason, an NFL record.