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Packers put Dagger through the heart of Texas

January 16, 2017 by  
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By Gary D’Amato, PackersNews.com

~Arlington, Texas – Seconds before Mason Crosby made the 51-yard field goal to end one of the best, wildest, craziest games in Green Bay Packers history, teammate Datone Jones looked the kicker in the eye, grinned and said, “Right down the middle, man.”

It’s a running joke between the two, a teasing reference to a television commercial Crosby made for Cellcom.

Crosby’s kick didn’t go down the middle, sneaking inside the left upright, but it went straight through the heart of Texas, instantly turning Jerry Jones’ spaceship of a stadium into the biggest funeral parlor on Earth.

His kick on the final play Sunday gave the fourth-seeded Packers a 34-31 victory over the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys in an NFC divisional playoff game.

“I didn’t know how to react,” Crosby said as the Texas native left the locker room to greet a large group of family members and friends. “I just bent down. I was so thankful for that opportunity to win the game. There’s nothing better than that.”

19 crosby kicks

Green Bay, 12-6 and on an eight-game winning streak, now heads to Atlanta for the NFC championship game at 2:05 p.m. Sunday.

The Packers, given up for dead after a midseason swoon left them 4-6, and with a roster shredded by injuries, keep finding ways to win. Sometimes with smoke, sometimes with mirrors, sometimes with undrafted who-dats and rookie third-stringers.

“The Green Bay Packers, our backs have been against the wall for, what, the last nine weeks?” said safety Micah Hyde. “This game kind of symbolized our season. Ups and downs, but in the end the Packers pull through.”

File this one in the hang-on-for-dear-life category. Green Bay led 21-3 midway through the second quarter and 28-13 early in the third before its patched-together defense ran out of gas, and the Cowboys went up and down the field against token resistance.

Shades of Seattle and the 2014 NFC championship game. Another meltdown like that would have sent Packer Nation into mass apoplexy.

“We felt good,” said linebacker Julius Peppers. “I know that’s hard to believe with everything that was going on around us.”

In the end, another in a long line of sublime performances by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and two long field goals by Crosby — a 56-yarder with 1:33 left and the game-winner after Dallas tried to ice him with a timeout — was the difference.

Rodgers carved up the Cowboys’ defense for 356 yards and two touchdowns without injured No. 1 receiver Jordy Nelson. Is it possible for a guy making an average of $22 million a year to be underpaid?

“It is incredible watching him,” said Cowboys rookie Dak Prescott. “I hate it in this circumstance, but he’s an incredible quarterback.”

Jan 15, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 15, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Rodgers’ final throw, while rolling left and under duress on third and 20, was gathered in 36 yards downfield by tight end Jared Cook, who dragged his toes before going out of bounds with three seconds left to set the stage for Crosby’s heroics.

If it wasn’t the best pass of Rodgers’ career, it’s on the short list.

“On an individual basis, I don’t think that I’ve seen more of an individual dictate how the game came out,” said Jones, the billionaire owner whose team has won exactly two playoff games since 1996. “I give him all his dues. He made the great plays and responded to what we did. I thought he was outstanding.”

Prescott and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott were almost equally sensational, with the former throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns and the latter rushing for 125. Receiver Dez Bryant caught nine passes for 132 yards.

“That team was 13-3 for a reason,” Peppers said. “They’re very good. They’re pretty basic in the plays that they run, but they do that stuff extremely well and it is hard to stop.”

The Packers will play in the NFC championship game for the fourth time under coach Mike McCarthy, who won his 10th playoff game, one more than Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren. McCarthy is 10-7 in the postseason.

There’s a saying that Destiny and Mystique are just dancers in a nightclub. But maybe there is something to this “team of fate” thing. The parallels between these Packers and the 2010 team that won the Super Bowl are too numerous to ignore.

“We went into camp at the end of July and we felt like it was our season,” Hyde said. “We were 4-6, we had that same mindset. We were 10-6, we had that same mindset. We got in the playoffs, we still had that same mindset.

“We feel like it’s our year.”

Soon enough, we’ll find out.

Original piece here

Practice makes perfect for Cook sideline dance

January 16, 2017 by  
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From Tom Silverstein, PackersNews.com

~ARLINGTON, Texas – In practice last week, Jared Cook’s teammates got a sneak preview inside the Don Hutson Center of what would be the big Green Bay Packers tight end’s most important play of his eight-year career.

Cook was running to the sideline and waiting for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to spot him. When Rodgers did, he threw a strike right into Cook’s hands, allowing the 6-5, 254-pound tight end to drag his feet on the field of play before going out of bounds.

Completion. First down. Great catch.

“It looked like it was good on the field,” receiver Davante Adams said. “Then we watched the film and saw it was a little bit out when we watched it together. But he did it right this time.”

19 cook sideline


McGINN
Crosby keeps Packers alive, kicking

DOUGHERTYPackers will live or die with Rodgers

D’AMATODagger through the heart of Texas

PLAYOFFSSchedule, times

BOX SCOREPackers 34, Cowboys 31 | Scores

Rodgers to Cook has become the Packers’ connection to a Super Bowl appearance and there was no better evidence than at the end of the Packers’ thrilling 34-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

The two kept the Packers from another Seattle-like capsizing with their astounding 36-yard connection that set up kicker Mason Crosby’s game-winning 51-yard field goal. Rodgers scrambled to his left on third-and-20 at the Packers’ 32 and caught a streaking Cook in his sights.

He threw the ball where it couldn’t be intercepted and Cook reached two hands out and caught it just as it passed through the boundary. All that was left was to get his two feet down to make it a catch.

Cook dragged the toes of his size 16 cleats on the turf just before his knees touched the ground. It took instant replay to confirm the catch, but the giant video board inside Jerry Jones’ stadium showed the legitimacy of the catch in 1080p.

“I was just trying to secure the catch, just making sure that I did what I could to stay in bounds and secure it because anything could have happened if I bobbled it,” Cook said. “They probably would have called it back.

“So, securing it was the most important thing.”

Then came the toes. This time he got them in.

“He learned from it,” Adams said of the play in practice. “He converted that size 16 to a 10½.”

Rodgers and Cook connected on only 6 of 11 passes against the Cowboys, but with receiver Jordy Nelson sidelined with broken ribs, someone needed to be the big-play guy.

Since Cook returned from a high ankle sprain in Week 11, the offense has been on a tear. Rodgers has thrown for 24 touchdowns and one interception and in each of their last six games they have scored 30 or more points.

The Packers were 4-6 after the Washington loss and now have won eight straight. The turnaround of an offense that couldn’t function against the Indianapolis Colts at home but now is playing for the right to go to Super Bowl LI.

“He’s been great,” said Nelson, who missed his first game this season. “This is what we brought him in here for. That’s why he came here because he knew the opportunity would be there for him to make the most of it.

“He’s made some great plays. To make plays down the stretch like this is important.”

The Packers knew what kind of athlete they were getting and the potential he had to unlock the untapped parts of their offense, but Cook had never played with a stud quarterback like Rodgers and never played in a playoff game.

Richard Rodgers, in his third season, had played in five more playoff games than Cook coming into this season.

“He hasn’t played in any playoff games (before this season) in his career before, but this is what he’s here for,” Rodgers said. “This is what he’s here for. He’s done a great job. It’s exciting.

“It’s a whole different game in the playoffs. I have a little bit of experience and I shared that with him, but you really have to play to see. Jared’s a great player and great players make great plays.”

Cook, who caught six passes for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys and five catches for 48 yards against the New York Giants in the wild-card round, not only helped the Packers with his great plays, he helped them with his sheer presence.

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INSIDERThumbs up to clutch Cook catches

Rodgers has been able to spread the ball all around with Cook in the lineup.

“It was great to see so many guys make a play out there,” Rodgers said. “Those guys did some great things.”

Early in the game, McCarthy went to some two-tight end formations to see how the Cowboys would cover it. Because running back Ty Montgomery was on the field, they had to keep two linebackers on the field in case it was a running play.

On the Packers’ very first drive, McCarthy split Cook and Rodgers to see how they would be covered. The Cowboys put a safety on Cook and linebacker Sean Lee on Rodgers.

Aaron Rodgers went right after Lee and connected on a 34-yard touchdown.

“We were able to cause some problems with that,” Richard Rodgers said. “They had to make choice what they were going to do.”

At the start of the third quarter, Cook struck again, this time with a 26-yard reception down the seam to the Cowboys 3-yard line and then an easy 3-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers that stretched Green Bay’s lead to 28-13.

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PREVIEWPackers (12-6) at Falcons (12-5)

Dallas rallied and kept the pressure on the entire second half. It finally came down to a 28-28 game with 4:08 left.

Crosby put the Packers ahead with a 56-yard field goal with 1:38 left. Then came the final drive. Cook looked like he could have had a pass deep down the middle on first down, but he dropped it.

After a sack and another incomplete pass to Cook, Rodgers loaded up and gave his big tight end one more chance.

“Obviously, a fantastic finish,” McCarthy said. “That’s what these games come down to. The execution there on the third down with the protection, the throw by Aaron and the catch by Jared Cook. And Mason Crosby knocking it through twice.

“I think that in and of itself tells a lot about the character, just the way that we’ve been able to fight through. I think it’s a pretty big insight into who we are as a football team.”

Original story here

Aaron Rodgers is redefining what it means to be a great NFL quarterback

January 15, 2017 by  
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From Dieter Kurtenbach, Fox Sports @dkurtenbach

~Jan 15, 2017 at 9:52p ET

Two plays earlier, Aaron Rodgers looked mortal — he didn’t see a blitzing Jeff Heath, and the Cowboys safety hit him from behind so hard that it’s a minor miracle the ball wasn’t jarred loose.

The play after that, Jared Cook dropped a pass on a drag route, his third drop of the game.

But with 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, on a third-and-20 play from their own 32-yard line in a game tied at 31, the two combined for one of the most memorable plays in recent NFL playoff history.

Against a three-man rush, Rodgers rolled out to his left, and let the ball drop down by his hip as he hopped in anticipation of a silver-bullet throw.

And what a throw it was.

Rodgers unleashed a 38-yard frozen rope to the left sideline, and Cook, somehow, someway, was able to get down to catch it, and dragging his feet across the turf at AT&T Stadium before falling out of bounds, stopping the clock.

With three seconds remaining, Mason Crosby made a 51-yard field goal — and then made it again when the first one was wiped away by a Cowboys timeout — and the Packers were in the NFC Championship Game, one win away from Super Bowl LI.

All due credit to Cook and Crosby, it’s all about the throw — it summed up Rodgers’ greatness in nine swashbuckling, devil-may-care seconds.

Rodgers is not some aimless gunslinger — though he might come across as that at times. He’s coldhearted and calculated. The Packers’ early lead in Sunday’s game was just as much Rodgers goading the Cowboys into mistakes as it was him pouring salt in the Cowboys’ self-inflicted wounds.

But when the tide shifted and the contest was no longer in the Packers’ control, Rodgers again proved that he’s the best improvisational quarterback the NFL has seen since Brett Favre (where he stacks up against the all-time great is another conversation for another day).

Sunday’s throw will go on Rodgers’ Hall of Fame highlight reel.

For most quarterbacks, a throw like that would be the top clip. The problem with Rodgers is that he does stuff like this all the time,

And yet it’s still amazing every time we see it.

There were the three successful Hail Marys in the span of 13 months, the throw that set up one of them, and countless “how’d he do that?” tosses.

Throws like Sunday’s — the kind that you could imagine few other quarterbacks making, much less completing (thanks, Jared) — have seemingly become the norm for Rodgers.

And it’s those kinds of throws that help remind us what a great quarterback looks like in the NFL.

Rodgers is by no means the only great quarterback in the league, but in a time when quarterback play has arguably never been better, the Packers’ signal-caller continues to evolve and progress to levels previously unforeseen. He was already a no-doubt, surefire Hall of Famer but at 33 years old, he’s playing the best football of his career, and he’s doing it with what is arguably the worst supporting cast of his career.

No excuses, no self-pity — Rodgers has made it happen this year.

Even when the team was 4-6 and it looked like the end was nigh for the team’s core unless they “ran the table”.

Even when they fell behind to a bad Bears team on the road and needed something resembling a miracle to win that contest.

Even when he was getting flummoxed by one of the NFL’s best defenses at home and then had his top receiver get knocked out of the contest.

Even when his team had coughed up a sizable early lead to the NFC’s top seed and needed to go at least 50 yards in 32 seconds.

Call them miracles if you want, the result is the same: He made it happen. And he did it with his brain, feet, arm, and boundless confidence.

It takes all of those things and more to be great, and no one exemplified that better than Rodgers during this incredible stretch of play.

No matter what happens in the NFC Championship Game or Super Bowl, Rodgers’ season — specifically his incendiary nine-game run that will continue to next Sunday — will be one to be remembered, and one can only hope for the sake of the league that NFL general managers and chief personnel keep it fresh in their memories this spring.

On Saturday, we saw one of the worst quarterback performances in modern playoff history — Brock Osweiler’s three-interception performance against the Patriots and another all-time great, Tom Brady. Last offseason, Osweiler, who backed up Peyton Manning in Denver in 2015, signed a $72 million deal with the Texans, who correctly believed that a great quarterback was the only thing holding them back from Super Bowl contention.

But greatness is not so easily found and it’s almost never bought.

If you’re a team that has a great quarterback — a truly great quarterback — you’re made.

And true greatness is something that can’t be misinterpreted.

The Packers certainly have that great quarterback on their team — one of the greatest of all time — and because of that no matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how poorly his defensive counterparts are playing, and no matter who is around him, Green Bay always has a chance.

Original story here

Mason Crosby kicked the ugliest/greatest field goal in NFL history

January 15, 2017 by  
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By Chris Korman, USA Today

~What you just watched – a knuckle kick? – gave Green Bay a 31-28 lead over Dallas in the final two minutes of their NFC divisional round game.

Don’t ask me to explain how it worked. It just did.

Dan Bailey kicked a 52-yarder a minute later to tie the game, but it didn’t flutter like an inebriated bird so we won’t share it here.

UPDATE: Crosby won the game with another meandering kick, this one torturing the whole of Wisconsin by veering toward the upright before tucking back to where it needed to be.

www.USAtoday.com

 

Rodgers drew up final play call playground style

January 15, 2017 by  
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By Dan Hanzus, NFL.com

~The Legend of Aaron Rodgers is growing by the hour.

The football world is still catching its breath after the Packersinsane 34-31 win over the Cowboys at Jerrah World on Sunday. Turns out Rodgers’ 36-yard completion to tight end Jared Cook that set up Mason Crosby‘s game-winner wasn’t taken out of Mike McCarthy’s voluminous playbook.

In truth, the play — a play that will go down as one of the greatest in Green Bay’s rich history — wasn’t in the playbook at all.

When MMQB’s Robert Klemko replied, “That’s ridiculous,” Cobb offered up a different description.

“It’s magic.”

 

Rodgers-to-Cook joins list of legendary clutch NFL playoff catches

January 15, 2017 by  
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By David Steele, The Sporting News

~Aaron Rodgers was already in the all-time NFL quarterback pantheon. Now he has a throw on the list of the all-time greatest, biggest, most clutch and most unforgettable. He’s in some select company — he earned his place Sunday night in Arlington.

So where does that throw to Jared Cook rank? With three seconds left, on third-and-20, rolling to his left, running out of room, and hitting Cook with even less room, toenails dragging the sideline, for 36 yards? The one that saved the Packers season and killed the Cowboys and freaked out even Rodgers’ gushiest admirers?

MORE: Packers-Cowboys, as it happened

Too bad it wasn’t in the Super Bowl, or with the Super Bowl on the line. But when it’s win-or-go-home, making plays like that one means the same thing. So yes, for setting up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal in the Packers’ 34-31 defeat of the Cowboys, it belongs on the list — even if the Packers don’t survive next week’s NFC championship game in Atlanta.

It will still join the ranks of The Catch, by Dwight Clark from Joe Montana in the 1981 NFC title game. And the Helmet Catch, by David Tyree from Eli Manning in Super Bowl 42. And the one Manning threaded to Mario Manningham along the sidelines, similar to Rodgers and Cook, four years later in Super Bowl 46.

January 15th, 2017 Final 1 2 3 4 Tot
[object Object] Green Bay Packers 7 14 7 6 34
[object Object] Dallas Cowboys 3 10 0 18 31

For toe-tapping excellence, it’s up there with Santonio Holmes from Ben Roethlisberger to give the Steelers the win in Super Bowl 43. For game-savers in the same round that the Packers pulled it off, there was the Steve Smith 69-yarder from Jake Delhomme in the second overtime in the 2003 playoffs to launch the Panthers toward Super Bowl 38, and Terrell Owens’ game-winner from Steve Young in the 1998 playoffs for the 49ers against Brett Favre’s Packers.

Clearly, it takes Hall of Fame talent on at least one end of a play like this. The Packers had that. Rodgers has spread this sort of magic around multiple times before, as recently as a year ago, in the same round, when his Hail Mary sent their playoff game against the Cardinals into overtime. They lost that one.

MORE: Deja vu in Arlington for Packers, Rodgers

Not this time, though — because, Rodgers said, this is what they do now, dial up miracles when they need it, and treat it as if they’re not miracles.

“We have a good repertoire for the end of games, whether it’s the well-publicized Hail Marys or the other plays we’ve hit over the years, to kind of draw from,’’ he said afterward. “And we kind of picked that one out, and we executed it well at the most important part of the game.’’

Of course, immediately after the game, he also told Fox, “It’s just kind of schoolyard at times late in the game like that.”

How schoolyard? Here’s how Pack receiver Randall Cobb described it:

Cobb said the final play was not an actual playcall. Rodgers just told each receiver what to do, like a kid drawing in the dirt. Seriously.

Rodgers acknowledged said it was just well-rehearsed schoolyard. It included blocking schemes that kept him upright and gave Cook enough time to get downfield.

And, of course, Rodgers throwing it where only Cook could catch it, and Cook getting hands and feet aligned to catch it and make it count. Rodgers kept making sure Cook got credit over and over for making the catch.

MORE: Chinstrap optional for Rodgers

Others made sure Rodgers got credit for being who he’s been for a long time.

“Someone said he’s been hot for the last seven or eight weeks; he’s been hot since 2008,’’ Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said with an admiring grimace.

Garrett was criticized in many corners for the spike he called on the Cowboys’ game-tying field goal drive, which among other things, led to Rodgers needing just a field goal to win, and having just enough time to get them into range.

Realistically, in the situation the Cowboys were in, there wasn’t much they could do to keep Rodgers off the field.

When Rodgers was sacked on a safety blitz two plays before the big one — miraculously holding onto the ball — and needed to call a Packers timeout, they almost didn’t end up with enough time.

But there was time for one throw and one catch to propel Rodgers and Cook into the rarefied air of Montana and Clark … and the rest of that elite company.

Original story here

Cook also scored this big touchdown earlier in the game.

 

Packers hold off Cowboys’ comeback, reach NFC title game

January 15, 2017 by  
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From Chris Wesseling, NFL.com

~Mason Crosby drilled a pair of field goals over 50 yards in the final 98 seconds, leading the Green Bay Packers to a thrilling 34-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Here’s what we learned in Sunday’s game:

1. Including Dan Bailey’s 52-yard field goal and Crosby’s “iced” attempt a split-second before the Cowboys called timeout on the game-winner, we saw four successful kicks over 50 yards with the game on the line in an instant classic. Although Bailey’s boot tied the game at 31, it left 35 seconds and a pair of timeouts for Aaron Rodgers to work his wizardry. Rodgers somehow managed to avoid fumbling on a blindside sack by safety Jeff Heath, leading to a third-and-20 desperation play on Green Bay’s 32-yard line. Rodgers escaped the pocket, threw a dime across his body off of one foot into a window the size of the Grinch’s heart for a spectacular 35-yard toe-dragging sideline catch by Jared Cook. Crosby snuck a 51-yard field goal inside the left upright, just moments after sending a knuckleball through the right corner pocket from 56 yards out. He will never buy his own beer in Green Bay for the rest of his life.

2. No Jordy Nelson, no problem. Before Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli dialed up a series of blitzes to confuse Green Bay in the second half, Rodgers had led the Packers to 66 points in the first 74 minutes since Nelson’s Wild Card-round exit last week. Prior to the opening whistle, FOX analyst Troy Aikman declared that Rodgers is playing quarterback at the highest level it has ever been played. Rodgers spent the next 60 minutes of game time proving Aikman right. The man who turned the Hail Mary into a routine play deployed every other weapon in his arsenal on Sunday, extending plays, throwing receivers open, pump faking to dupe defensive backs, picking up first downs with his legs and tricking Dallas’ defense into untimely penalties. Rodgers’ 34-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers was his 14th on a “free play” due to defensive offsides since 2012. No other quarterback has more than three such scores over that span. A master craftsman possessing the position’s most gifted and varied toolbox, Rodgers has advanced the art of quarterbacking over the past two months.

3. The new version of the “triplets” brought the Cowboys back into the game just as the Packers were threatening to run away and hide with a 28-13 lead late in the third quarter. While social media was clamoring for a Tony Romo appearance, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott hit 13 of 17 throws for 142 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in his final three possessions. Directing a textbook one-minute drill, he picked up 42 yards in six plays to give Bailey an opportunity for the game-tying field goal.

Fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott churned out 125 yards on 22 carries, highlighted by a phenomenal spin move on Clay Matthews to set up Dez Bryant’s seven-yard touchdown that ultimately tied the contest at 28 with five minutes remaining.

4. Speaking of Bryant, he joined Hall of Famer Michael Irvin as the only Cowboys receivers with at least 130 receiving yards and two touchdown catches in a postseason game. Bryant enjoyed not just his best game of the year but also one of the finest performances by a wide receiver all season. After hauling in back-to-back passes of 21 yards and a 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he forced a red-zone pass interference penalty on LaDarius Gunter and beat the Packers cornerback again for the game-tying seven-yard score in the final stanza.

5. The Cowboys’ vaunted offensive line draws all of the hype, but the Packers’ front five deserve credit for the stellar pass protection that allows Rodgers to hold onto the ball and routinely use his improvisational skills en route to chunk plays. Green Bay’s offensive line survived a scare when blindside tackle David Bakhtiari went down with a knee injury in the second quarter. The second-team All Pro returned for the second half after missing one series.

6. Bakhtiari wasn’t the lone Green Bay starter to get nicked up. Safety Morgan Burnett was ruled out after sustaining a quadriceps injury. Wideout Davante Adams twisted his ankle late in the game, but returned for the final field-goal drive. Those two injuries will be worth monitoring for the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta. In one of the most entertaining games of the regular season, those two teams battled to a 33-32 Falcons victory back in Week 8.

7. While Gunter was handled by Bryant, fellow defensive back Micah Hyde and rookie defensive tackle Kenny Clark came through with their best efforts of the season for Green Bay’s defense. The steadily improving Clark was a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage, in one case single-handedly thwarting an Elliott screen play. After a first-quarter sack, Hyde’s film study paid dividends when he jumped a bubble screen to Bryant for a third-quarter interception.

8. Heath snapped Rodgers’ career-long streak of 318 consecutive pass attempts without an an interception — the second-longest streak of the 21st century. Heath would have played the hero with a clutch red-zone interception just after the two-minute warning had rookie cornerback Anthony Brown not bailed Rodgers out with a pass interference penalty in coverage of Ty Montgomery. Heath had one more chance to earn the game ball via the aforementioned blindside hit on Rodgers with 23 seconds remaining, but the quarterback’s giant hands put a vice grip on the ball. Heath played an inordinately important role in the final labyrinthine moments of a football opera.

Thriller: Crosby Kicks Packers into NFC Championship Game in Atlanta

January 15, 2017 by  
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From Brian E Murphy, Packers Insider Senior Editor

The Captain Kicks the Packers season into Atlanta

The Captain Kicks the Packers season into Atlanta

~Did your defibrillator have batteries in it?

After too many years of the Packers being eliminated in January playoff heartbreaks, especially overtime, it appeared that there might be another painful exit Sunday night in Dallas.

But Mason Crosby to the rescue, with a big assist to Aaron Rodgers and Jared Cook.

Rodgers and the offense were on fire for the whole first half, a complete reversal from the first half of the Giants game last week.

In fact, it took a blatant hold by Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne on Davante Adams to stop the Packers finally. True, that’s supposed to be holding but not according to today’s officials, who let that guy grab Adams’ shoulder all night long.

The Packers almost blew another big lead in a playoff game on the road, this time an 18-point lead. But Rodgers did what he so often does: lead the Packers to a victory in the final minutes. Where you at Skippy Bayless?

On third-and-20, the Packers got 36 yards thanks to a great throw and brilliant catch by unrestricted free agent addition tight end Jared Cook on the sideline.

That set up a 51-yard field goal for Mason Crosby for the win, which he drilled after being iced by Cowboys coach Jason Garrett just as he kicked it through a first time.

Before Crosby’s game-winner, the Cowboys and Packers traded field goals.

With 1:38 to play, Crosby drilled a clutch 56-yarder to give the Packers a three-point lead, and possible win.

But with the Packers defense, you suspected it wouldn’t be the game-winner.

Rookie QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys answered with drive and a field goal of their own — another clutch long one, a 52-yarder by Dan Bailey to tie the game with 44 seconds left.

That left Rodgers too much time, although it wasn’t as easy as you might suspect.

This Instant Classic might not erase the scars Packer Nation still has from two years ago in Seattle, when a Super Bowl berth slipped through Brandon Bostick’s hands.

But this is a new chapter, and the script is still being written. The next masterpiece takes place next Sunday afternoon in Atlanta. Stay tuned to see what Rodgers has to author.

5 things to watch in Cowboys-Packers game

January 15, 2017 by  
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By Drew Davison, Star-Telegram

~

Youngster Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson started their careers with consecutive wins over Rodgers and the Packers. Is Dak next?

Youngsters Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson started their careers with consecutive wins over Rodgers and the Packers, both regular season and playoffs. Is Dak next?

Prescott’s poise

Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has been praised for his poise from Day One, and rightfully so. The fourth-round pick hasn’t let any moment or any stage get too big for him. The playoffs are different, though, and all eyes will be on Prescott and how he handles this moment. If the past is any indicator, he should check off this box like the rest.

Zeke attack

The Cowboys are a run-first team and rookie Ezekiel Elliott lived up to the hype by leading the league in rushing. He had a breakout game (28-157 yards) against the Packers, and will be relied on heavily again in what the Cowboys hope will be a lengthy playoff run.

The Packers have no choice but to sell-out to try and stop Elliott. If they don't, he'll eclipse the 157 yards he had in October against them in Lambeau Field. But by doing so, it will give the Cowboys receivers many opportunities to beat the Packers soft cornerbacks for big plays deep.

The Packers have no choice but to sell-out to try and stop Elliott. If they don’t, he’ll eclipse the 157 yards he had in October against them in Lambeau Field. But by doing so, it will give the Cowboys receivers many opportunities to beat the Packers soft cornerbacks for big plays deep.

Green Bay feels its defense has improved, but the telling sign will be if it can contain Dallas’ rushing attack.

Pressuring Rodgers

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is known for his innate ability to avoid pressure and extend plays. The Cowboys have struggled to rattle Rodgers in recent meetings, but feel better about their chances with a fully healthy defensive line.

Bulaga and company have to pay attention to #95 Sunday afternoon. As they (Rodgers) found out in October, Irving can disrupt and ruin a game.

Bulaga and company have to pay attention to #95 Sunday afternoon. As they (Rodgers) found out in October, Irving can disrupt and ruin a game.

End David Irving forced three fumbles in the previous meeting in October, and could be a difference-maker once again.

Takeaways

It’s no secret that takeaways go a long way in deciding game winners. Rodgers has protected the ball well, not being intercepted during the Packers’ current seven-game winning streak. Prescott and Elliott have protected the ball well, too. The defense that is able to force takeaways will put its team in a favorable spot to advance to the NFC Championship.

X-factors

Are the Cowboys better off with the rest they’ve earned leading into the playoffs? Or are the Packers better by continuing the momentum they’ve been riding on the seven-game winning streak? These are age-old questions teams face every postseason. These teams are distinctly different in how they enter this game. We’ll find out if the Cowboys are rested or rusty, and whether the Packers are riding momentum or running out of gas.

Original article here 

Who has the edge between the Cowboys and Packers?

January 15, 2017 by  
Filed under News

By Drew Davison, Star-Telegram

Quarterbacks

Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers Star-Telegram; AP

Cowboys: Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has exceeded expectations by every measure, tying the NFL record for most wins by a rookie QB (13) and posting a 104.9 passer rating. But a rookie quarterback has never taken a team to the Super Bowl in NFL history, although Prescott has answered every other challenge to date.

Packers: Aaron Rodgers is among the best postseason quarterbacks in history. He’s already won a Super Bowl and ranks fourth in postseason history for passer rating (minimum 150 attempts) with 100.3. Rodgers appeared to be in peak form last week vs. the New York Giants, throwing for 362 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Edge: Green Bay


Running backs

Ezekiel Elliott and Ty Montgomery Star-Telegram; AP

Cowboys: Rookie Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards and scored 15 rushing touchdowns. He had a breakout game against the Packers earlier in the season, gaining 157 yards on 28 carries. Elliott is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball and has proven worthy of the fourth overall pick. He’s also got plenty of “playoff” experience from his days at Ohio State, playing in a New Year’s Six bowl each of his three years.

Packers: Eddie Lacy is on injured reserve with an ankle injury, leaving the Packers to rely on Christine Michael and Ty Montgomery to carry the rushing load. Michael, who spent time with the Cowboys last season, joined the Packers in November and hasn’t topped the 50-yard mark in seven games. Montgomery, a converted wide receiver, had an impressive rushing performance against the Chicago Bears last month but isn’t relied on too heavily.

Edge: Dallas


Wide receiver/tight end

Cole Beasley and Davante Adams Star-Telegram; AP

Cowboys: Cole Beasley posted career-bests in receptions (75) and receiving yards (833) while leading the team in receiving. Jason Witten continues to be a security blanket as the tight end. But Dez Bryant is still the biggest outside threat for the Cowboys and is healthy going into the postseason. Also don’t forget Terrance Williams, who had three touchdown receptions in the 2014 playoffs.

Packers: The Packers will be without injured wideout Jordy Nelson (ribs). Nelson, the Packers’ best receiving threat after leading the team with 1,257 receiving yards and leading the NFL with 14 TDs, was not cleared by team doctors. Davante Adams had a strong season with 12 touchdowns and falling just 3 yards short of the 1,000-yard mark. Randall Cobb is arguably the hottest receiver going right now after catching three TDs, including a Hail Mary, in the wild-card victory over the Giants.

Edge: Push


Offensive line

Cowboys: This is widely considered the best offensive line in the league with three All-Pro players in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. The O-line sets the physical identity the Cowboys want to impose each week and is arguably the team’s deepest unit going into the playoffs.

Packers: Green Bay doesn’t have the names on its O-line like Dallas, but it’s still a steady group. The Packers have given Aaron Rodgers plenty of time in the pocket to extend plays, part of the reason they’ve been able to win seven consecutive games. The line is led by tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, and gave up only one sack to the Cowboys in the Oct. 16 meeting.

Edge: Dallas


Head-to-head stats

Stat Cowboys Packers
Points per game 26.3 (5th) 27.0 (4th)
Total offense 376.7 (5th) 368.8 (8th)
Passing offense 226.9 (23rd) 262.4 (7th)
Rushing offense 149.8 (2nd) 106.3 (20th)
Off. 3rd down conv.% 42.3 (10th) 46.7 (2nd)
Points allowed/game 19.1 (5th) 24.2 (21st)
Total defense 343.9 (14th) 363.9 (22nd)
Passing defense 260.4 (26th) 269.2 (31st)
Rushing defense 83.5 (1st) 94.7 (8th)
Def. 3rd down conv.% 39.1 (15th) 41.2 (24th)
Turnover margin +5 (9th) +8 (6th)

Defensive line

David Irving and Julius Peppers Star-Telegram; AP

Cowboys: The Cowboys had 36 sacks on the season, although the pass rush disappeared at times during the season. The rush defense ranked as the best in the league, although several teams were playing from behind. Still, the D-line has flashed potential. Benson Mayowa led the team with six sacks, Tyrone Crawford had 4.5 and David Irving had a team-high 26 QB pressures.

Packers: Green Bay has a Hall of Famer on its D-line in Julius Peppers, who had 7.5 sacks in the regular season and one in the wild-card round. Peppers forced a fumble when these teams played in 2014. As a unit the Packers have fared well, compiling 40 sacks, tied for sixth-most in the league, and ranking eighth in run defense (94.7 yards).

Edge: Green Bay


Linebackers

Sean Lee and Clay Matthews Star-Telegram; AP

Cowboys: Sean Lee earned All-Pro honors after a terrific season in which the coaches credited him with a team-leading 174 tackles. Anthony Hitchens had 104 tackles this season. Justin Durant has battled through injuries, but has shown to be a difference-maker when he’s on the field. This linebacker corps has done a solid job stopping the run and defending the pass.

Packers: Linebacker Nick Perry led the team with 11 sacks, but is dealing with a left hand injury. Clay Matthews has also dealt with injuries, but had five sacks in 12 games. Second-year pro Jake Ryan has played well of late, recording 12 tackles and three passes defensed in the wild-card game against the Giants. Additionally, the Packers have one of the more well-respected most respected defensive coordinators in the game, Dom Capers.

Edge: Push


Secondary

Cowboys: Dallas has given up more than 260 passing yards a game and had nine interceptions on the season. Safety Barry Church led them with two picks. But the secondary has held its own for the most part. Brandon Carr has been a reliable corner, Morris Claiborne should return and sixth-round pick Anthony Brown has been another rookie surprise. Orlando Scandrick could have the unenviable task of containing Green Bay slot receiver Randall Cobb, but Scandrick is among the best when healthy.

Packers: Green Bay finished the regular season with the 31st-ranked pass defense. They have been hit hard by injuries, losing arguably their best DB, Sam Shields, to a concussion early in the season. Fellow cornerbacks Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall have battled injuries, too. But the Packers fared all right against the Giants in the wild-card round, holding Eli Manning to fewer than 300 passing yards and intercepting him once.

Edge: Dallas


Special teams

Cowboys: Kicker Dan Bailey is among the best in the NFL and has never missed in 250 point-after attempts. He was 27-of-32 on field goals this season with a long of 56. But Bailey went just one of three on field goals attempts in the 2014 postseason. Punter Chris Jones has done well, averaging 45.9 yards. Returner Lucky Whitehead, meanwhile, has never scored a touchdown on a return in his career. Similarly, the coverage units didn’t give up a return touchdown this season.

Packers: Kicker Mason Crosby has been reliable, particularly in the postseason where he has converted 24-of-26 field goal attempts and all 54 extra-point attempts. Punter Jake Schum averaged 43.2 yards a kick. Micah Hyde has served as the punt returner. Jeff Janis is the primary kickoff returner and averaged 25.7 yards on three returns in the wild-card game. The Packers did give up a kickoff return for a touchdown earlier this season, allowing Indianapolis’ Jordan Todman to go 99 yards.

Edge: Push


Coaches

Jason Garrett and Mike McCarthy Star-Telegram; AP

Cowboys: Coach Jason Garrett has two playoff games under his belt, going 1-1. He made questionable clock management decisions near the end of the first half in the 2014 divisional round against Green Bay, but has been praised for his aggressiveness this season. Coordinators Scott Linehan (offense) and Rod Marinelli (defense) are regarded among the best in the league.

Packers: Coach Mike McCarthy is in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year and ninth in the past 10 seasons. He has gone 9-7 in the playoffs, highlighted by a Super Bowl run in 2010. In that season, he guided the sixth-seeded Packers to three road wins en route to the Super Bowl at AT&T Stadium. McCarthy is the play-caller on offense, although he made a questionable decision to go for it on fourth down in his own territory at his own 42-yard line in the wild-card game last Sunday. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is respected around the league, but his injury-plagued unit ranked 22nd in the league this season.

Edge: Green Bay


Intangibles

Cowboys: The Cowboys have the home-field edge and playing at AT&T Stadium finally has the makings of being is becoming a true advantage for them. They have won seven consecutive games there and have drawn an average of 92,539 spectators this season, most in the league by a mile. certainly should benefit with the comforts of being home away from the field. Plus, clinching the top-seed early and earning a bye week has allowed the Cowboys to rest and rehabilitate. They’ve been able to field a full, healthy roster in practices leading up to this game.

Packers: Green Bay won three consecutive road games in its Super Bowl season in 2010, and have momentum going into this game. The Packers have won seven in a row and have plenty of postseason experience to draw upon. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been a Super Bowl MVP while linebacker Clay Matthews has played in 13 postseason games, recording with 11 sacks and five forced fumbles. But the Packers have lost their best offensive weapon target, injured receiver Jordy Nelson, in the wild-card round.

Edge: Dallas

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