GREEN BAY, Wis. - Mike McCarthy said he was concerned at some points that Aaron Rodgers would not be able to complete Sunday's game against the Cowboys.
The Packers quarterback injured his left calf two weeks ago, missed most of the practices since, and dragged himself around the field Sunday limping. But every time McCarthy asked Rodgers about it, he got the same answer.
"He says he's fine," the Green Bay coach said. "I just kind of go with it."
The entire Packers team did, following Rodgers to a 26-20 win over the Cowboys and a ticket to the NFC Championship Game.
It was Rodgers' first career second-half comeback win in the postseason -- he was 0-4 before this -- and further established him at the top of the NFL's quarterback pyramid.
"His performance in the second half," a stunned McCarthy said. "Everybody wants to compare performances. I mean, that's as good as it gets."
Visually, Rodgers looked far worse than his stats. He clearly was hobbled by the calf injury and at times had to hop down the field to catch up with long gains. He rarely ventured outside the pocket, leaving the thin zone between his two guards only twice. He had a chance to scramble up the middle early in the first quarter but instead decided to throw awkwardly on the run.
"The pain in my calf helped me make that decision very easy," he said.
That pass turned out to be a 4-yard scoring strike to Andrew Quarless that gave the Packers a 7-0 lead.
"I feel like with my normal mobility, I would have been able to run that one in," Rodgers said. "As I moved forward in the pocket, I realized I couldn't do a whole lot."
That's certainly relative. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 316 yards, his fourth postseason game with at least 300 passing yards, eclipsing the team record of three he shared with Brett Favre. It was his fifth career postseason game with a passer rating of at least 110.0; only Tom Brady and Joe Montana have more, with six, and each has more than twice as many playoff starts as Rodgers.
"He's the greatest one in the game," Randall Cobb said. "He comes out and proves it week in and week out. For him to come out and gut it out again and be able to make these plays is huge for us."
The biggest play may have been the one that was most unlikely, given his physical limitations. With the Packers trailing by a point in the fourth quarter, Rodgers stepped up to avoid pressure from behind, slid to his left, then fired a 13-yard bullet to Richard Rodgers for the go-ahead touchdown with 9:10 left.
"It was actually a little bit easier moving to the left today for whatever reason," Rodgers said. He stuck the ball between the convergence of defensive backs Sterling Moore and J.J. Wilcox.
His reward is another week of trying to heal while he prepares for an opponent with the NFL's top defense. Rodgers said he is optimistic he will at least feel better next week, even if it's almost impossible to play better.
"I think I've got 120 minutes left in me," he said of the time it would take to play two more games -- the path to another Super Bowl title. "I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I can play all of those minutes."