DALLAS – As he watched Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey tie the score at 31, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had just one thought in his head.
“A little too much time on the clock,” Rodgers said of the 35 seconds Dallas left him.
Not only did Rodgers use every last second to will the Packers to a 34-31 NFC Divisional playoff triumph at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, he pulled off the wild victory just moments after taking a wicked, blindside hit for a sack by Dallas safety Jeff Heath.
This is one, tough quarterback.
Rodgers’ 36-yard strike to tip-toeing tight end Jared Cook along the sideline while rolling left was too good to believe just two snaps after getting buried for a 10-yard loss.
He wouldn’t say it’s the best throw he’s ever made, and neither would his head coach, but it was one that will go down in franchise annals as one of the greatest.
“Shoot, it’s the best one today, that’s for sure,” Mike McCarthy said. “He’s an incredible player, an incredible talent to do it when it’s all on the line like that. That’s what great players do. He got it done for us today.”
As he’ll often do, Rodgers shared plenty of credit with his teammates. He talked about the “phenomenal catch” and the “big smile” on the face of Cook, a first-time playoff participant, when he hugged him after the game. He mentioned the pass protection on the decisive play as he rolled left. He repeatedly called Mason Crosby the best kicker in the league.
“The clutch kicks he’s made, we love having him there,” Rodgers said.
There were definitely plenty of contributions, and the Packers will need all of them again next week in Atlanta as McCarthy and Rodgers go for their second Super Bowl berth together.
But Rodgers calm and cool in the most intense of pressure situations stood out the most and is probably this team’s best asset heading into next week. Facing third-and-20 two plays after the sack, he wasn’t even thinking about overtime.
“I’m confident anytime I’m out there with the game on the line or not,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got a pretty good repertoire of plays for the end of the game, whether the well-publicized Hail Marys or other plays we’ve hit over the years that we can draw from.
“I love that part. I love the challenge. I love the opportunity to go out and make plays.”
He wasn’t even thinking about the plays at first. He was focused on his breathing, “trying to steady that,” and telling his teammates in the huddle that with two timeouts left, getting yards was more important than getting out of bounds.
There’s nothing like nerves of steel and a little “street ball” to call upon when needed. The sack turned out to be just a temporary setback, and for the second time in his career, Rodgers knocked off the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed on the road.
“This is just the beginning for the Cowboys,” said Rodgers, echoing McCarthy’s compliments of Dallas’ superb rookie duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. “There’s going to be more battles like this over the years.”
But this was the Packers’ turn, as they were finally – finally – on the right side of a down-to-the-wire playoff finish.
Five times under McCarthy, four with Rodgers as his quarterback, Green Bay has exited the postseason on the game’s final play, including the last three years in a row.
Getting to celebrate a walk-off, rather than head into the offseason agonizing over one, shows just how different this crazy season has been.
“We’ll get on to Atlanta tomorrow, but this one’s special,” Rodgers said. “More special than we’ve had around here in a while.”
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