Packers shake Cowboys, to play for NFC title
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Hobbled but happy, Aaron Rodgers might have felt a bit lucky, too.
No matter: The All-Pro quarterback and his Green Bay Packers are one step away from the Super Bowl.
More stationary than usual because of a left calf injury, Rodgers rallied the Packers from an 8-point deficit with two second-half touchdowns passes to beat Dallas 26-21 Sunday.
The Packers (13-4), helped immensely by a video reversal with 4:06 remaining, went undefeated at Lambeau Field this season. They head to Seattle next weekend for the NFC title game.
The Seahawks (13-4) beat Green Bay in the season opener, 36-16.
"I think I got 120 minutes left in me," Rodgers said.
Green Bay might not have had any time left in its season if not for referee Gene Steratore's decision. Dez Bryant's leaping, bobbling 31-yard catch at the Packers 1 on a fourth-and-2 play was challenged by Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. Instead of first-and-goal for Dallas (13-5), the ball went over to the Packers.
"Some people think throwing the red flag is fun," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It was such an impactful play, you had to challenge. It was a confident challenge. And a hopeful one, too."
One packed with controversy, as well.
"Look, I'll tell you this, I've never seen that a day in my life," Bryant said. "I want to know why it wasn't a catch."
Because Bryant didn't maintain control all the way to the ground, as the rule states. Replays showed Bryant bobbling the ball as he rolled into the end zone, with part of it touching the field.
"By rule he must hold onto it throughout entire process of contacting the ground," tweeted Dean Blandino, the league's director of officiating. "He didn't, so it is incomplete."
An impassioned Bryant didn't buy it.
"All I know is I had possession, I had possession of the ball coming down," Bryant said. "That's possession, right? One, two, reach. Bam, that's possession."
Green Bay closed it out before a Lambeau-record 79,704 on Randall Cobb's diving 12-yard reception of a deflected pass on third-and-11. That gave Cobb eight catches for 116 yards and set off a raucous celebration at the iconic venue.
"It's unbelievable," Cobb said. "For the ball to get tipped and magically appear in my area, you can't tell me there's not a God. That was a crazy play."
One of many.
The Cowboys' first postseason trip to Green Bay since the 1967 Ice Bowl for the NFL championship resulted in their first road defeat of the season after eight victories. Dallas got 123 yards rushing from league leader DeMarco Murray and a courageous effort from Tony Romo, who hurt his left leg in the third quarter.
That meant there were two hobbling quarterbacks. All-Pro Rodgers, bothered by a left calf he injured in Game 15, lost much of his trademark elusiveness as the game wore on.
"A little bit worse, yeah," Rodgers said of how his calf felt as the game progressed. "Hard to say, see how it feels in the morning."
Regardless, he was on-target for a short pass to Davante Adams that turned into the 41-yard score to make it 21-20. Then he sharply guided the Packers 80 yards to the winning points, a 13-yard bullet to backup tight end Richard Rodgers in the back of the end zone.
Murray atoned in style for a third-quarter fumble, gaining 32 yards on the Cowboys' ensuing possession, including a 29-yard sprint one play after Romo hurt his leg. The hobbling Romo handed to Murray for the 1-yard plunge that made it 21-13, then limped to the bench for treatment on the leg.
When he came back in, Romo was sacked on consecutive plays, the first ending the third period, the second forcing a punt.
Rodgers had stood firm in firing over the middle to Adams, who cut right, shrugged off a weak tackle by J.J. Wilcox and sped into the end zone. The 90-yard drive got the Lambeau faithful back into it.
Then came the decisive fourth-quarter series on which Rodgers went 7 for 7. He finished 24 for 35 for 316 yards and extended his record string without a home interception to 442 attempts. He has 39 TD passes in that span.
On Green Bay's opening possession, Rodgers mostly handed to Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 45 yards on the 60-yard drive. But Rodgers had to step up away from the rush and did so spryly before hitting Andrew Quarless in the back of the end zone.
Back came Dallas with just as efficient a possession that took 7:25. Tyler Clutts was wide open at the goal line for his 1-yard TD catch.
Rodgers got Green Bay close on its next drive, but was clapping his hands when rookie Corey Linsley snapped the ball. Rodgers dropped it, recovered, but then was hit by Jerome Mincey, who grabbed the loose ball.
It was a rare turnover for the Packers, who tied for the league lead with only 13 giveaways. Cornerback Tramon Williams' botched tackle attempt on a short pass to Terrance Williams turned into a 38-yard TD and the Cowboys led 14-7.
The Packers drew closer at halftime thanks to a 31-yard completion to Cobb that set up Mason Crosby's 40-yard field goal. Crosby added a 30-yarder in the third quarter, making him the franchise's career points leader. But Green Bay could have had more.
After recovering Murray's fumble at the Dallas 44 and getting to the 13, a 15-yard personal foul on guard T.J. Lang set the Packers back.
But not for long.