DALLAS — It was one small play in practice that had major ramifications for the Packers’ offense during Sunday night’s NFC Divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys.
During a red-zone period this past week, Jared Cook made a great play on a pass near the sideline. Upon further review in the film room, however, it was apparent the 6-foot-5, 254-pound tight end didn’t get his foot in bounds.
“I don’t know what size shoe he wears but his toe was on the line,” tight end Richard Rodgers said. “We gave him a hard time for it.”
With Sunday’s game hanging in the balance, Cook made sure not to make the same mistake twice when he saw Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers rolling his way on third-and-20 with 12 seconds remaining in a tie game.
Perfect ball placement kept the ball away from the defender and gave Cook just enough room to do the rest. The veteran tight end kept his size 15 cleats in bounds long enough to haul in a 36-yard pass that would set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal from 51 yards as time expired in the Packers’ 34-31 victory.
Cook knew he had absolutely zero room for error on the catch. Along with making sure he got his toes in, it was critical for the veteran tight end to not allow the ball to move in his hands.
The play was reviewed, but Cook and his teammates knew he caught it.
“I was just trying to secure the catch,” Cook said. “Just making sure I did what I could to stay in bounds and secure it because if I bobbled it a little bit, they probably would’ve called it back.”
It capped another big day for Cook, who’s enjoying his first playoff run in eight NFL seasons. He led Green Bay in receiving against the Cowboys with six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.
The Packers needed that production with receiver Jordy Nelson out for the first time this season with a rib injury he sustained in last week’s 38-13 wild-card win over the New York Giants.
Without Nelson, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy put a lot on the shoulders of Cook and Richard Rodgers, increasing the amount of spread formations and two tight-end packages.
Cook sat out the first meeting with the Cowboys due to an ankle injury that cost him six games. His return has coincided with Rodgers and the offense playing their best football this season.
“He hasn’t played in any playoff games in his career before – this is what he’s here for; he’s here to help us out and he’s done a great job for us,” Richard Rodgers said.
Aaron Rodgers got things started early when he threaded a 34-yard pass through Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee to Richard Rodgers for the Packers’ first touchdown of the game with 8:58 left in the first quarter.
Cook proved to be a reliable third-down option for Rodgers, in addition to grabbing a 3-yard touchdown pass from his quarterback with 11:25 left in the third quarter to give Green Bay a 28-13 lead.
When the game was on the line, Cook and Rodgers connected for a sixth and final time to punch Green Bay’s ticket to next Sunday’s NFC title game in Atlanta.
“‘12’ makes it easy,” said Cook, who has 11 catches for 152 yards in Green Bay’s two playoff games. “He communicates with you. He tells you how he wants certain routes, just describes to you how important it is to be on the same page with him. He makes it easy for you with keeping the communication constant.”
While Cook might not have been able to get his feet in bounds last week during practice, he smiled when asked afterward if he’s ever made a more important catch than his final one against Dallas.
“Probably not,” said Cook, laughing. “Probably not.”
After waiting eight years to make his first playoff appearance, Cook is now only one more win away from the Super Bowl.
“Words can’t describe it man. It’s been eight years just to get this far,” Cook said. “Big-time games to play with big-time players. I’m happy to be here.”
Welcome home: As a kid growing up in Dallas, Ty Montgomery always dreamed of scoring a touchdown at Texas Stadium.
While the Cowboys have since switched home venues, it still meant the world for Montgomery to score not one, but two touchdowns, on back-to-back series in front of nearly two dozen of his closest friends and family.
The Packers’ second-year running back finished with 17 touches for 81 total yards (47 rushing, 34 receiving).
“It’s incredible,” Montgomery said. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and thinking about it. Since I was little, having dreams about it and they came true. I’m taking it all in right now.”
Montgomery used to sell hot dogs and water at the Texas Stadium concessions as a child and once scored a 60-yard touchdown in a Pop Warner game during halftime of the same contest Emmitt Smith broke the NFL’s all-time career rushing record.
“It means a lot,” Montgomery said. “Cowboy nation is big and to come into Dallas and play against a team that’s hot … to come in and beat them, I’m so glad we got the job done.”
Big pick: Micah Hyde continued one of the hottest stretches of his NFL career when he picked off Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in the third quarter on a screen pass intended for Cole Beasley.
Hyde and fellow cornerback LaDarius Gunter both saw the play developing. As Prescott turned to throw, Hyde jumped out to intercept the pass and returned it 18 yards.
“I saw it. ‘Gunt’ saw it. ‘Gunt’ told me to go,” Hyde said. “I didn’t want to leave my (guy) dry but he just told me go so I went and got the ball.”
It was Hyde’s fourth interception in the last six games, and only the fifth pick that Prescott threw during his rookie season. Coincidentally, two of them came against the Packers with Morgan Burnett intercepting Prescott in the teams’ Week 6 matchup.
Injury front: Left tackle David Bakhtiari left the game for a series in the second quarter after sustaining a knee injury on the second of Montgomery’s two touchdown runs.
Bakhtiari, who recently was voted to the AP All-Pro second team, shook off the injury to return to the game before halftime.
“Every guy on that offensive line, everyone gets nicked up throughout the course of a game,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “Hat’s off to Dave. He battled through it, fought through it and was able to get the job done.”
Burnett injured his quad in the first half and didn’t return. Undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice finished the game at safety next to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, with undrafted rookie Josh Hawkins replacing Burnett as the slot cornerback in the dime sub-package.
Brice finished with a team-high six tackles and a pass deflection on a near-interception off a Prescott deep ball.
“I’m behind Morgan, but I still study the same as if I’m the starter,” Brice said. “You never know what’s going to happen like what happened today. That’s a credit to our Coach ‘DP’ for keeping me ready and prepared, and studying.”
Waiting game: Out with a rib injury, Jordy Nelson was like everyone anxiously watching the climax of Sunday’s win over the Cowboys.
“It’s up and down like every other fan,” Nelson said. “You just have to sit there and watch and support them as much as you can.”
When asked about his potential availability for next week’s game against Atlanta, Nelson said: “I’m not worried about that until later this week.”
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