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By CHRIS HAVEL
Rodgers’ greatness, Crosby’s clutch field goals eliminate NFC’s top seed in Dallas
The Green Bay Packers’ playoff games should come with a warning label: Intense viewing by fans may trigger palpitations, anxiety attacks and arrhythmia, not to mention expletives, paranoia and unintelligible utterances.
So why do fans put themselves through it?
That’s easy. It’s because of euphoric, classic victories such as the Packers’ 34-31 thriller over the Cowboys in Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Packers’ fans faithfully climbed aboard the rollercoaster and proceeded to watch their team:
- Race to a 21-3 lead thanks to an incredibly fast start by Ty Montgomery and the offense;
- Miss a chance to put the Cowboys away with a red-zone turnover when leading 28-13;
- Fail to keep Dallas from tying the game at 31-31 with a hellacious fourth-quarter rally, AND;
- Ultimately, thankfully and joyously KO the Cowboys thanks to an amazing Aaron Rodgers-to-Jared Cook 36-yard pass on third-and-20 to set up Mason Crosby’s 51-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
After the Cowboys tied it at 28-28 on Dez Bryant’s touchdown catch and Dak Prescott’s 2-point run with 4:08 to play, the Packers’ offense put together consecutive field goal drives.
The first was capped when Crosby nailed a team playoff record 56-yard field goal to make it 31-28 Packers. Dallas’ Dan Bailey answered with a tying 50-yard field goal with 35 seconds.
Rodgers, Cook and Crosby took it from there
NFL kickers are a perfect 33-for-33 in this postseason, including seven-of-seven from 50-plus yards. Crosby hit twice from beyond 50 in the clutch.
“It’s kind of a blur right now,” Crosby told reporters. “When we have 35 seconds on the clock and that our offense can move the ball into field goal range and a manageable kick, that’s just special.”
It doesn’t get much better than that. The Packers (12-6) take an eight-game winning streak into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Atlanta.
“I love the opportunity to go out there and make plays,” Rodgers told reporters after the win. “I was disappointed we had a chance there at 28-13 to go up three scores and make it really difficult for them and I threw a pick there on third down. We were able to come down and have two good drives toward the end of the game.”
Rodgers completed 28 of 43 passes for 356 yards, two touchdowns and the interception. It was a virtuoso performance by one of the NFL’s all-time great quarterbacks and it moved Green Bay a step closer to an appearance in Super Bowl LI against the Pittsburgh-New England winner.
What’s Next: Packers at Atlanta Falcons
The Packers are 4-point underdogs going into Atlanta, according to the Las Vegas sports books. The combined total score over/under is at a near-record 60 points.
I doubt Green Bay has a problem with being a 4-point dog – they were a 4 ½-point underdog coming into the Dallas game – or with the prospect of a good old-fashioned shootout.
The Packers are averaging 32 points per game during their last six and could have a healthy Jordy Nelson back in the lineup.
This will be Green Bay’s second trip to the NFC title game in three years. The Cowboys haven’t been to an NFC Championship Game in 21 years.
Dallas was shunned again thanks to a pesky Green Bay defense, a rugged offensive line, exceptional receiver play and Rodgers’ excellence. Cook, who hadn’t been to the playoffs during his nine-year career, couldn’t be happier. He caught six passes for a team-high 104 yards and proved clutch when it mattered most.
“I saw (Rodgers) rolling to the right (and) it was underneath coverage in front of me,” Cook told reporters. “If I got over the top of them, Aaron would put the ball in the right place. Put it right on the sideline with enough room to get my feet down. It was a heckuva throw by him.”
The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott rushed 22 times for 125 yards but never really imposed his will on the Packers’ defense. Prescott hit 24 of 38 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Green Bay.
Now it’s on to Atlanta and a date with the Falcons’ explosive offense. Led by quarterback and MVP candidate Matt Ryan and a sensational group of receivers and backs, the Falcons are the league’s highest-scoring team.
They also are one of the few teams that have the explosiveness to stay with the Packers. The Packers at Falcons game should be a high-scoring thriller.
The Falcons and Ryan are favored, but I wouldn’t bet against the Packers and Rodgers.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.