Monday, January 12, 2015

Packers win over Cowboys takes team to NFC Championship, adds to team lore

Exhale, Packers fans.

Sunday's game at Lambeau Field between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys was one for the ages. The Packers' 26-21 win over the Cowboys had a bit of everything: gutsy performances by many players, a breakout receiving performance by a rookie, turnovers, made and missed field goal attempts, missed two-point conversion, a near-brawl, and what some will say was a controversial call on a coach's challenge.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers scrambles leading to the go-ahead TD throw to TE Richard Rodgers in the 4th quarter vs. the Cowboys.
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The focal point for the storyline leading up to the game, throughout the game, and after the game was less Wisconsin native son QB Tony Romo's return with Dallas and far more about QB Aaron Rodger's left calf. Truth be told, it hindered him significantly in the first half of the game particularly. Other than the first scoring drive, the first half was one where many felt the momentum swinging irreversibly the Cowboys' way. Rodgers was hit and miss on his throws. The Packers' running game behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks did seem to have traction early on, but as the game evolved and the Packers were playing from behind at home for only the second time this season, the Pack moved more into the passing game in the second half. Fortunately, Rodgers seemed to shut out whatever pain or discomfort he was feeling and, while still remaining or moving within the pocket, made some truly remarkable throws to help resurrect the team's chances for a win. It also emerged after the game that Lacy had to sit out more than perhaps originally thought not because of injury but because he was experiencing difficulty with his asthma.

There were many plays that made a difference for the Packers yesterday. Andrew Quarless -- who typically is not on special teams -- recovering a fumbled return by Randall Cobb; if that hadn't been recovered, the Cowboys would have been set up in or near the Packers' redzone. Let's also not forget the strip by Julius Peppers of running back DeMarco Murray; without that strip and recovery -- leading to a field goal by the Pack -- Murray had clear sailing for 60 yards to the endzone. Huge.

Rookie WR Davante Adams came up big for the Packers vs. the Cowboys.
Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Also huge was the breakout performance by rookie receiver Davante Adams who had seven catches for 117 yards, none bigger than the 46-yard TD catch he made on third and 15 in the third quarter to draw the Pack within one point of Dallas at 21-20. Roughly 29 yards of that catch and run came after contact. Adams had his full athletic ability on display, breaking an initial tackle attempt and then juking a defender so well that no one touched him the rest of the way into the endzone. With Jordy Nelson held in check with just two catches on the day, the bulk of the pass targeting went to Cobb and Adams. Tight ends Quarless and Rodgers also did their parts in picking up the offense, especially in the second half.

The play -- and call -- that will probably be discussed by many (especially Cowboys fans) for some time is the supposed 32-yard catch on fourth and two by Dez Bryant down to the Packers' one-yard line. That would have set up Dallas with a little more than four minutes remaining with a go-ahead touchdown opportunity. Head coach Mike McCarthy challenged the call of a reception. It was a wise challenge. Since it was not a touchdown, there would have been no automatic booth review of the catch. McCarthy had no choice but to challenge. The result was that the call was overturned; Bryant, according to the league rules, didn't make a "football move" nor did he maintain possession throughout the catch...the ball visibly moved as he came to the ground. Packers' ball back at their own 33-yard line. It was the only challenge by McCarthy that he won all season. A good time for it. From there, the Packers never gave the ball back to Dallas.

A key play was another big reception by Adams. While Rodgers will rightfully be hailed for his gutsy performance on essentially one leg, Adams should also be the recipient of a game ball for his clutch performance.

Next up: the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC Championship. We'll get to that game preview in upcoming days. For now, Packers fans, let's savor this win. For as much as the Cowboys owned the Pack during the 1990s, on Sunday the Packers took a little bit of sweet revenge.

Go Pack Go!!!