MIAMI—The frantic, final drive had a little bit of everything, and everybody.
A run and a catch by a running back, both for first downs. Catches by four other receivers. A fumble recovery by an offensive lineman. A fourth-down conversion, a fake spike play and a game-winning TD to a tight end with only one catch prior to that on the day.
It took all of that for the Packers to go 60 yards in 2 minutes, 1 second, and pull out an exhausting thriller, 27-24 over the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.
“We knew we just had to keep making plays,” guard T.J. Lang said. “I kind of blacked out a couple times. I’m not going to lie. It was fast and furious.”
The Packers caught a break when poor clock management by the Dolphins led to a punt before the two-minute warning. With 2:04 on the clock from its own 40, Green Bay ran James Starks, knowing the clock would stop after the play, and he picked up 12.
From there, it got kinda nuts.
On third-and-9, QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked and lost the ball. It bounded to the middle of the field for anyone to recover, and Lang fortunately pounced on it for the Packers.
That was one of the plays he almost blacked out on, barely able to recall it after the game due to the heat and exhaustion. After composing himself for a second or two, he described the first of several game-savers on that last drive.
“I turned around, I was trying to help on Bryan (Bulaga)’s guy, saw the ball pop loose, knew we had to get out of the pile with it,” Lang said. “It’s my job, a loose ball to go jump on it.”
That set up fourth-and-10, and Rodgers went to his old reliable, Jordy Nelson, for 18 yards down the right sideline. Nelson was headed for more but inadvertently caught the sideline with his toe as he tried to head upfield and was ruled out at the Miami 30-yard line.
“I can’t believe I stepped out of bounds,” said Nelson, who went over 100 yards receiving on the day with that grab. “That was kind of frustrating, but it worked out.”
Two incomplete passes later, Starks caught a short pass and ran through the middle for 10 yards. At that point, the clock was approaching 30 seconds and it appeared Rodgers might want to stop it.
He didn’t, throwing a quick out to the left to Randall Cobb that he had to dive for. It only gained 4 yards and Cobb couldn’t get out of bounds. Now, the spike seemed certain.
Only it wasn’t. Rodgers fooled everyone by taking the snap and firing out to his right for rookie Davante Adams, who took on cornerback Cortland Finnegan and gained 12 yards down to the 4, going out of bounds with just 6 seconds left.
“We didn’t know,” center Corey Linsley said of Rodgers’ deception. “We were prepared for anything at that point.”
Adams said he got a signal from Rodgers to be ready, and the offensive linemen said they were given a protection call. The Dolphins were caught off-guard, and the Packers were in position for the win.
“It was real subtle, so other people aren’t going to be able to pick up on it,” Adams said of the signal. “He’s doing his job and I have to make sure I’m seeing everything he’s doing, because it’s on me if I don’t do it right.”
Further evidence of his alertness, Adams said when he caught the ball and saw Finnegan so far off of him, he glanced up at the clock, so he knew he had time to gain some more yardage, as long as he got out of bounds. One more move might have gotten him into the end zone, but he didn’t risk it.
“You have to be smart,” Adams said. “Maybe I do score on that, but if I don’t, we’re sitting in here and you’re not asking me questions about how we won.”
With the clock stopped, Miami burned its last timeout to set its defense, but it didn’t matter. Rodgers split tight end Andrew Quarless out to the right, and when he saw him matched up on a linebacker, that’s where the ball was going.
“I was trying to tell him the whole game to try to take advantage of these linebackers,” said Quarless, who had just one catch for 7 yards to that point. “I was open all day, and once we saw a linebacker on me, the rest was history.”
Quarless said he was given a “go” route, but from the 4-yard line, that usually means to stop and look for the ball on the back shoulder.
“Once I turned my head, the ball was there,” said Quarless, who tried to stay calm before the snap even though he was almost certain the ball was coming his way.
Calm amidst the chaos certainly helped.
“We’ve all been in this huddle for a few years, so there wasn’t too much panic,” Quarless said. “That’s a good thing. We knew one of us was going to have to make the big play.”
It actually took many of them.
ADDITIONAL PACKERS-DOLPHINS COVERAGE - OCT. 12