DALLAS – The Packers pulled off another miracle at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, but no one was flashing back to the past with the game in the balance. It was about the here and now.
“No, I wasn’t thinking about the playoff game,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said, referring to last January’s walk-off win over the Cowboys. “I was just thinking about winning this game and getting to 4-1.”
The Packers did that in dramatic fashion, driving 75 yards in 62 seconds, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit receiver Davante Adams for the game-winning 12-yard touchdown with just 11 seconds left.
The clutch score gave Green Bay a 35-31 victory and sole possession of first place in the NFC North after five games.
“I can’t say enough about our guys,” McCarthy said. “We talked about it being a little bit of a bumpy ride.”
That it was, as Dallas came out on fire, scoring touchdowns on three straight drives to lead 21-6 late in the second quarter.
The Packers had to overcome that, two missed extra points that had a domino effect on the score the rest of the day, and then a final three-point deficit after Cowboys QB Dak Prescott scored on a read-option run from 11 yards out with 1:13 to go.
No problem, apparently, even without starting left tackle David Bakhtiari, who missed his fourth straight game with a hamstring injury, and without Jordy Nelson, who was not on the field on the final drive while being evaluated for an unspecified injury.
Left guard Lane Taylor slid out to left tackle again, with Justin McCray taking Taylor’s normal spot, and the offense didn’t really skip a beat.
As expected, the Cowboys fed running back Ezekiel Elliott plenty, and the league’s reigning rushing champ finished with 116 yards, though it took him 29 carries to get there. Green Bay only allowed Elliott one big run, a 25-yarder to begin the Cowboys’ late go-ahead drive when the Packers had only 10 defenders on the field.
Elliott kept pounding away in the fourth quarter, and his success opened up the read-option fake for Prescott (25-of-36, 251 yards, three TDs, one INT, 105.2 rating) to score.
“Their commitment to running the football was a challenge,” McCarthy said. “The defense just kept battling.”
Long drives led to a limited number of possessions, but the Packers got back into the game with a touchdown late in the second quarter and a field goal to open the third quarter, pulling within 21-15.
The Packers took their first lead on the opening play of the fourth quarter, a 10-yard TD pass to Nelson, but the Cowboys went right back in front on a field goal, 24-22.
Then the defense capped its best stretch of the game (three points allowed in four possessions) with a pick-six. Cornerback Damarious Randall, coming off a tumultuous week personally, snagged a Prescott pass that deflected off the shoulder of receiver Terrance Williams and returned it 21 yards for the score.
“That was huge,” McCarthy said. “It was the one turnover in the game.”
The comeback was also possible thanks to rookie running back Aaron Jones, who stepped in for an injured Ty Montgomery (broken ribs) and shined.
Jones carried 19 times for 125 yards and a touchdown, a 7-yard run up the middle just before halftime. His performance could be the jump-start to a very productive season for him and Green Bay’s ground game.
“Very proud of Aaron Jones,” McCarthy said. “He earned the opportunity to start today and he produced. That’s what you look for. This was his first chance to take a big load in the run game, and I thought he played outstanding. I love his running style.”
So does Rodgers, who had no qualms with the rookie being his pass protector in the backfield with the game on the line. Rodgers (19-of-29, 221 yards, three TDs, 122.9 rating) even called Jones’ number on the final drive, giving him a handoff out of the shotgun that he took 15 yards into field-goal range, smartly getting out of bounds with 39 seconds left.
“I told him before the game, I have absolutely zero worries about him back there,” Rodgers said. “He’s a great kid. His vision as fantastic.
“That’s stuff you can’t coach,” Rodgers continued, regarding the cut to the sideline that both moved the chains and preserved Green Bay’s lone timeout on the final possession. “You love the instincts there.”
Rodgers’ instincts are pretty good, too, of course. His 18-yard scramble on third-and-8, after nearly getting tripped up by two Dallas defenders, allowed him to go for the winning TD rather than settle for a tying field goal.
Two plays later, Adams – with seven catches for 66 yards and two scores just 10 days after spending a night in a Green Bay hospital after a nasty helmet hit – was leaping over rookie corner Jourdan Lewis to snag the winning score.
Green Bay’s fearless leader had done it again.
“Aaron Rodgers in the two-minute drill, I don’t know what else to say about him,” McCarthy said. “I have to expand my vocabulary.”
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