Green Bay Packers come back to beat Dallas, head to Seattle


Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy picked a great time to finally win a coach’s challenge this season.

McCarthy, who had lost a challenge in the first half of Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff at Lambeau Field, threw the red flag onto the field shortly after Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant had hauled in a long pass from Tony Romo on a fourth-and-2, leaping over Packers cornerback Sam Shields for an acrobatic grab at the 1-yard line.

49. 21. 123. Final. 26

The Packers, leading 26-21 with 4:06 remaining in the game, looked to be on the ropes after what looked to be a spectacular play by Bryant.

But the ruling on the field was overturned, giving the ball back to the Packers with the five-point lead intact.

The Cowboys never got it back.

Green Bay was able to bleed the clock dry, with Davante Adams making a huge play, evading a tackle and gaining 26 yards for a first down on third-and-3 and a hobbled Aaron Rodgers coming up big when he had to with a quick pass to Randall Cobb on third-and-11 that Cobb turned into what was the game-clinching first down.

Three kneeldowns later and the Pack was headed back to Seattle for the second time this season, this time for the NFC Championship.

Referee Gene Steratore explained the ruling on Bryant’s catch/no-catch decision to a pool reporter after the game, via Pro Football Talk.

“Although the receiver is possessing the football, he must maintain possession of that football throughout the entire process of the catch,” Steratore said. “In our judgment, he maintained possession but continued to fall and never had another act common to the game.

“We deemed that by our judgment to be the full process of the catch and at the time he lands and the ball hits the ground, it comes loose as it hits the ground, which would make that incomplete; although he repossesses it, it does not contact the ground when he reaches so the repossession is irrelevant because it was ruled an incomplete pass when we had the ball hit the ground.”

It’s the second week in a row a Cowboys playoff game involved a hugely controversial officiating decision.

Dallas’ win last week over the Detroit Lions was marred by a pass interference flag that was picked up after it had been announced by the referee.

Jan 11, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) is unable to catch a pass against Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) in the fourth quarter in the 2014 NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Now we have this play.

The Packers are the beneficiary of the call, made under the same logic that was used when officials took an apparent game-winning touchdown by Lions’ receiver Calvin Johnson off the board in a game at Chicago in 2010.

I’ll say the same thing now that I said then—if those aren’t catches then I don’t know what the heck constitutes a catch anymore.

Based on the letter of the law, the call on Sunday was correct. That doesn’t mean it’s a good law, however.

The Packers got on the board first on a 4-yard pass from Rodgers to tight end Andrew Quarless, but Dallas tied it up late in the first quarter when fullback Tyler Clutts was wide open in the flat for a 1-yard scoring pass from Romo.

Dallas took a 14-7 lead when Terrence Williams hauled in a pass from Romo, Tramon Williams missed a tackle, Micah Hyde missed a tackle, and Williams completed a 38-yard scoring play. It was the first time Green Bay had trailed at Lambeau Field since their home opener against the New York Jets in Week 2.

Mason Crosby booted a 40-yard field goal as time expired in the half and the Cowboys had a 14-10 lead at the break.

That came after a crazy sequence during which a Romo pass to Jason Witten was ruled a first down when it was obvious Witten was nowhere near the line to gain. Dallas took a timeout with 40 seconds left in the first half and officials re-spotted the ball two yards further back after a video review.

The Cowboys, who had been gashing the Packer defense with NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray throughout the first half, threw a deep ball on third-and-1 to Williams that fell incomplete and Dallas coach Jason Garrett opted for a field goal try from 45 yards.

Dan Bailey pushed the kick wide right, but got a reprieve on a false start penalty. Now kicking from 50 yards, Bailey was wide right again, but this time it may have been because Datone Jones got a hand on the ball at the line.

Rodgers threw short over the middle to Cobb for a 12-yard gain that was upheld on video review and then, after a sack lost 10 yards, Rodgers hit Cobb on a deep ball for 31 yards. A quick pass to Adams netted five more and set up Crosby’s kick at the first-half gun.

A 30-yard boot by Crosby made it a 14-13 game midway through the third quarter, but Dallas put together an answer—an 80-yard drive in six plays capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Murray that gave the Cowboys a 21-13 lead.

Jan 11, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) gets past Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) to score a touchdown in the third quarter in the 2014 NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Late in the third quarter, Rodgers connected with Adams over the middle and the rookie from Fresno State dodged a couple of defenders and went to the house for a 46-yard touchdown pass.

With 9:10 remaining, Green Bay capped an 80-yard, eight-play drive with the California connection—Rodgers to Rodgers, Aaron to tight end Richard Rodgers—and a 26-21 lead after the two-point conversion held.

Despite a tough first half, Rodgers finished 24-for-35 for 316 yards and three touchdown passes while playing on a torn left calf.

Eddie Lacy, who missed chunks of the game as he battled asthma on the sidelines, still ran for 101 yards on 19 carries, while Adams had 117 yards on seven catches and Cobb picked up 116 on eight grabs.

They became the first Packer trio to gain 100 yards from scrimmage in a single playoff game.

Another key play from the first half came when Julius Peppers—who had six tackles and a sack—forced a fumble by Murray on a play that would have almost certainly been a Dallas touchdown if Peppers didn’t make the play.

For Dallas, Romo was an efficient 15-for-19 for 191 yards and two touchdowns and Murray ran for 123 yards on 25 carries.

Nick Perry had 1½ of Green Bay’s four sacks. Peppers had one, while Mike Neal, Mike Daniels and Jones were credited with half-a-sack each.

So now the Packers head back to CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where the regular season opened on the first Thursday of September with a 36-16 loss to the defending Super Bowl champions.

With a gimpy Aaron Rodgers against that vaunted Seattle defense.

But after watching Rodgers hobble around to go 15-for-20 for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, you have to give the Packers at least a puncher’s chance of becoming the first team to win a playoff game in Seattle in more than 10 years, since the St. Louis Rams knocked off the Seahawks in a Wild Card Playoff game on Jan. 8, 2005.

Seattle has won its last seven home playoff games.

Green Bay’s last road playoff win was its 21-14 triumph at Soldier Field over the Bears in the NFC Championship on Jan. 23, 2011.

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