DALLAS—When the replay review with less than 90 seconds left on Sunday reversed the call of incomplete pass and gave Tramon Williams the game-saving interception, the Packers sideline was up for grabs.
“I haven’t felt this way in a long time – I feel like we won a Super Bowl,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, echoing the comments of several of his teammates who compared the jubilation of Sunday’s wild comeback for a 37-36 victory over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium to the Packers’ only previous visit here, three seasons ago for Super Bowl XLV.
“Our sideline was jumping,” receiver James Jones said, “like we did win the Super Bowl.”
It was a comeback for the ages as the Packers rallied from a 23-point hole, tying the largest deficit overcome in team history 31 years ago.
Strangely enough, the replay booth not long before appeared to quash the Packers’ hopes, when Williams’ diving interception early in the fourth quarter was overturned. Referee Walt Coleman said the ball hit the ground between Williams’ arms, nullifying the turnover and Williams’ weaving return to the Dallas 7-yard line with the Packers trailing 29-24.
Dallas went on to score a touchdown on that drive, but the Packers still managed to score twice more and regain the lead by one point, needing one more stop on defense.
Cowboys QB Tony Romo, who had been intercepted by Sam Shields on the previous drive to set up the Packers’ go-ahead TD, threw wide of receiver Cole Beasley, and Williams snared the ball as he dove and spun onto his back, preventing the ball from ever touching the ground. Two series, two picks for the defense, and almost 3-for-3 on the earlier close call.
“The one that I didn’t get credited with, I thought I caught it,” Williams said. “But the one I did get credit with, I’ve never felt more sure about a catch in my life.”
As a result, Williams gestured manically for replay to take a look at it, and he wouldn’t give the ball back to the side judge who ruled the pass incomplete. As Dallas hustled to try to run another play, the Packers called timeout just as the replay official buzzed Coleman.
“The referee was calling for the ball, and I refused to give it to him,” Williams said. “He might have asked me about four or five times, and I didn’t give him the ball. I saw Mike (McCarthy) running up the sideline and I knew we were going to try to do something.”
The Packers did something all right, turning around an abysmal first half that saw them trailing 26-3 with their season on the brink.
The offense came to life, scoring five touchdowns in five second-half possessions, jump-started by Eddie Lacy’s 60-yard run on the first snap of the third quarter. From then on, there was seemingly no stopping backup QB Matt Flynn and the offense, as it put together consecutive scoring drives of 80, 80, 22, 80 and 50 yards.
“More or less, we were just saying one play at a time,” center Evan Dietrich-Smith said. “We weren’t really looking for one guy to make a play, we were just making sure we were making the play on that one play. That just led one thing to another, and we started making a lot of big plays, and the next thing you know we take the lead at the end of the game.”
That lead was set up by Shields’ interception, which came against a crossing route by receiver Miles Austin. Matthews, whose sack inside the 5-yard line earlier in the fourth quarter set up Micah Hyde’s strong punt return for a short field, barely missed sacking Romo a second time.
Shields recovered after getting beat off the line of scrimmage to snare the pass at midfield, giving the Packers a chance, down 36-31 with 2:46 left.
“I tell you what, I was pretty upset within that .5 second of missing the sack and Sam’s interception,” Matthews said. “But yeah, it was a huge play I think to get him off the spot, get him uncomfortable, let him know someone was coming after him, and then Sam made a heck of a play. Ultimately, that was the difference in the ballgame right there.
“I’m happy we won the game. I’m upset I missed that sack, but who knows, it might have turned out different had I got it.”
The Packers will take a nod from the football gods after all they’ve been through the last two months, and especially the last two weeks.
Down by 11 at halftime to Atlanta a week ago, the Packers rallied. Facing a deficit more than twice as large on Sunday, nobody quit.
“We came into halftime, 26-3, most guys would have packed it in, ‘OK guys, it’s not our season, let’s just go home and get ready for next year,’” Williams said. “Not that vibe here.”
Instead there’s now a sincere vibe of belief that the season holds promise. Whether or not QB Aaron Rodgers comes back next week, the Packers will be in control of their own postseason destiny if the Lions lose on Monday night to the Ravens. If the Lions win, the Packers still can win the division with two more wins and one more Detroit defeat.
“When you give a team confidence, especially with the team we have and all the players we have and the ability we have, when we believe we can win down by that many points, in any game, we never think we’re out?” Jones said. “Look out.”
Unsaid by Jones is how far the Packers have come in 2013. A team that couldn’t finish strong in the fourth quarter for the first half of the season, even with its starting quarterback, suddenly has come through big-time late in back-to-back games with everything at stake to keep breathing in the NFC playoff chase.
“The adversity we went through, last week, this week, guys continue to fight, continue to fight, continue to fight,” Williams said. “You have to feel it’s never over for us, truthfully.”
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