ARLINGTON, Texas — He wasn’t perfect for the first time in almost two months, but he still was Aaron Rodgers.
Which is why as soon as the Packers quarterback released his final pass, a throw across his body while rolling to his left that would have been awkward for just about any other quarterback on the planet, Mason Crosby stopped watching.
He didn’t need to see Jared Cook catch the ball along the sideline, tap both toes in bounds and roll out of bounds for a 36-yard completion on third-and-20 with three seconds left in regulation. Instead, as soon as the ball left Rodgers’ hand, Crosby said he turned his attention to one last warm-up kick into the net and trotted onto the field for a 51-yard field-goal attempt.
The kick sailed inside the left upright at AT&T Stadium as time expired Sunday, prolonging a magical run for the Packers and ending a season of promise for the top-seeded Cowboys. The 34-31 win by Green Bay, which featured three field goals of 50 or more yards by the teams in the final 1:33, sent the Packers to the NFC Championship Game next Sunday in Atlanta.
“I told them if we can get across the 50, to the 45, we’d have a chance,” Crosby said of the game-winner, which came shortly after his 56-yarder gave the Packers the lead with 1:33 remaining. “It seemed fast and furious. I blinked and we were already kicking a 51-yarder. But that’s what these games are about. That was one for the ages.”
And Rodgers again proved that he is a quarterback for the ages, completing 28 of 43 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns. He downplayed that last throw, saying he’s made better and more athletic plays, but for his teammates, it was yet another remarkable performance in a season filled with them.
“That’s Aaron for you,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “He does it every day in practice for you, he does it in games. Week in and week out, year in and year out. We’re just happy he’s our quarterback because that’s a huge play, one that probably 31 other quarterbacks can’t make in this league.”
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said it is “unbelievable” to watch Rodgers do his thing.
“It’s a movie out there, man,” he said. “Games like this and moments like this are things you dream of seeing. There’s no words for that, man. He’s our guardian angel.”
The Packers needed every bit of his football divinity, and for most of the game, Rodgers provided it. The Packers took a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter and were up 28-13 in the third quarter when Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott threw an interception to Micah Hyde.
A score there would have virtually put it away for Green Bay, but Rodgers then threw his first interception since Nov. 13 to give the Cowboys a fighting chance. Jeff Heath’s pick on a deep pass down the right sideline snapped a streak of 318 pass attempts without an interception by Rodgers, who threw 24 touchdown passes in that span.
The Cowboys converted it into a touchdown, a 6-yard pass from Prescott to Jason Witten, to make it 28-20 with 11:39 remaining. It was Witten’s first career postseason touchdown.
After forcing a punt, the Cowboys embarked on an 11-play, 80-yard drive to tie it at 28. Prescott hit Dez Bryant for a 4-yard touchdown, their second scoring connection of the game, with 4:08 remaining to make it 28-26, and Prescott ran up the middle for a tying two-point conversion.
Crosby kicked his 56-yarder with 1:33 remaining to put the Packers ahead 31-28. The Cowboys’ Dan Bailey connected from 52 yards with 35 seconds remaining to tie it at 31.
Thirty-five seconds, two timeouts and Rodgers. Game over.
“It’s a great feeling to have that guy on your team,” linebacker Julius Peppers said. “There hasn’t been one time that I have been part of this team that I have gone out on the field and didn’t think I had a chance to win. We feel like we are going to win every game with him behind center.”
Rodgers looked ready to uncork one of those Hail Mary passes he’s become surprisingly adept at completing, which might have spooked the Cowboys’ secondary and pushed them deeper into coverage. Instead, he worked through his progressions. Cook was the second option, but Rodgers moved off him and finally came back to him as read number four.
“He put it right on the sideline with enough room for me to get my feet down,” Cook said. “I knew it was good because I knew it was a perfect throw. You can’t speak enough about number 12. He just always makes it happen.”
It’s an attitude that Rodgers not only fosters but buys into. And something he said separates this team from recent incarnations.
“I’m proud of our guys. We stuck together,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think anybody doubted we were going to score on those last two drives. There’s a different energy with this team. The guys are very hungry, which maybe we didn’t have at times in the past when we tried to make runs.”
After eight wins in a row, and one win away from the Super Bowl, they have it now.
Just another playoff day at the office for Aaron Rodgers, who is 9-6 in 15 postseason games: