Aaron Rodgers, master of the Hail Mary pass, struck again in another big moment.
Rodgers overcame a sluggish start and finished with four touchdown passes, including a momentum-swinging 42-yard heave to Randall Cobb at the end of the second quarter, to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 38-13 win Sunday over the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game.
The Packers move on to face the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round next week.
Both teams looked poor in the beginning, but once Aaron Rodgers heated up, it was all Pack.
And that’s the thing... the Packers aren’t the same team the Cowboys rolled in Week 6. Mainly because Aaron Rodgers has turned his season around.
Immersed in a zone similar to the one he parlayed into a championship run six years ago — one that successfully concluded in Dallas' building in Super Bowl XLV — Rodgers has been virtually unstoppable. After throwing for 362 yards and four TDs in Sunday's beatdown of the New York Giants, he's compiled this gaudy stat line during the Pack's seven-game winning streak: 2,029 passing yards, 19 TDs, 69.6% completion percentage, 121.7 passer rating. He hasn't been intercepted since Nov. 13.
With Rodgers so hot, expect a week of articles about how the Cowboys better watch out, how they better not think they can take the Pack like they did earlier in the season. Expect a lot of atrticles like this:
Dallas and the New England Patriots have been the NFL’s best teams for most of the season. But the best team doesn’t always win in the playoffs. Sometimes the hottest team can roar through the postseason and to the Super Bowl. That’s what happened at the end of the 2010 season. The Packers got into the playoffs as a wild-card team, then Rodgers played out of his mind as they went on to win Super Bowl XLV. When Rodgers gets on a roll like he did that postseason, opponents need to play a near-perfect game to beat the Packers.
We’re six years beyond Rodgers’ only Super Bowl championship, but the similarities to this season are hard to miss. The Cowboys have had a tremendous season. Now they have their biggest challenge coming to Texas.
But there are certainly reasons for the Cowboys to be confident, too.
The Cowboys are rested, most notably tailback Ezekiel Elliott. Yes, he's young and strong, but he has also never played a season this long. By the time this game comes along, Elliott will have gone almost a month between playing full games. He'll be fresh to hit a Packers defense that will be sore after a physical game against the Giants. And speaking of the Giants, the Cowboys don't have to play them. They accounted for two of the Cowboys' three losses during the regular season. Finally, it's difficult to imagine the Packers' pass defense staying with Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley. The Packers have allowed 269.3 passing yards per game, second most in the NFL.
The Packers also faced a couple of bruising injuries in the Giants game that could have a huge effect on the upcoming game.
They got beat up Sunday in beating the Giants. Receiver Jordy Nelson (ribs) and running back Ty Montgomery (leg), two key components of their midseason turnaround, both were helped off the field. Nelson did not return. Their pass defense, meanwhile, benefited from some drops by the Giants' receivers Sunday but will face a much stiffer offense in Dallas.
Of course, this upcoming game will be a re-match of the catch/non-catch game played after the 2014 season.
The Cowboys, and Dez Bryant, will certainly remember the outcome of that game.
The Cowboys' last playoff run, in 2014, ended at Green Bay, following an infamous reversal that determined that Dallas receiver Dez Bryant didn't make a catch near the goal line. Rodgers also couldn't be stopped, despite being hobbled by a calf injury, in Green Bay's 26-21 divisional-round win.
The Cowboys and the Packers have played seven games in the playoffs. The Packers won the first two in 1966 and 1967, including the famous Ice Bowl. Then the Cowboys went on a streak of four wins, all in Dallas.
The Cowboys will face the Green Bay Packers for the eighth time in their playoff history.
Dallas is 4-3 against Green Bay. All four wins came at Texas Stadium:
The 1982 season Dallas won in the NFC Divisional playoff 37-26.
The 1993 season the Cowboys topped the Packers 27-17 in the Divisional Round.
The 1994 season was a 35-9 Silver and Blue victory over the Packers.
The 1995 season saw the Cowboys defeat the Packers 38-27 in the NFC Championship Game.
Of course, as noted above, the Packers managed to win the last playoff contest.
Also of note, over in the AFC the Pittsburgh Steelers won, and they are a long time rival of Dallas when it comes to the playoffs and Super Bowls. The Steelers moved ahead of the Cowboys in one category.
The Pittsburgh Steelers today played in their 57th postseason game of the Super Bowl era. They came away with their 35th win, which is, at least for this week, the most in NFL history. The Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys entered this postseason tied for the most postseason wins with 34, but with a bye week, the Steelers got the first crack at 35th, and got it.
They also lead the Cowboys with six Super Bowl wins to the Cowboys five (the 49ers also have five) and they lead the Cowboys 2-1 head-to-head in the Super Bowl. Maybe this year we can even that record.
And finally, we can’t let the moment pass. The New York Giants receiving corps, led by Odell Beckham, Jr., decided that a little trip to Miami on their off day this week would be a good idea. Somehow, it turned out not to be, especially when they were dropping passes all over the place against the Packers.