Coach Mike McCarthy had a simple message to his players after the Green Bay Packers whipped the New York Giants 38-13 on Sunday afternoon.
“We are onto Dallas,” McCarthy told an exuberant locker room.
Yes, the Packers and Cowboys are set to meet in the divisional round for the second time in three years with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line. The top-seeded Cowboys will host the fourth-seeded Packers at 3:40 p.m. next Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys opened as a 4-point favorite, but the Packers are coming in a much more confident group than when the Cowboys beat them 30-16 on Oct. 16.
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“We didn’t really have an identity; we weren’t playing well; we weren’t executing,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said of the Packers when they faced the Cowboys. “These last six weeks we’ve found something and obviously our defense is playing really well to boot.
“It’s going to be a hell of a game.”
Much of the credit for the turnaround goes to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He has found his old MVP self in recent weeks, and certainly looked the part in picking apart the Giants’ defense.
[Elliott] is a well put together running back, so looking forward to the challenge. But Packers are doing good right now, so let’s go. … Hats off to the rookie, but Pack coming to town, baby.
Packers nose tackle Letroy Guion
Rodgers hit his stride at just the right time after a sluggish start, too. He completed only half of his 22 passes in the first half, but threw two touchdowns in the final 2:32 including a 42-yard Hail Mary to Randall Cobb at the end of the half.
Rodgers finished the game 25-of-40 for 362 yards with four touchdowns — three to Cobb — and no interceptions for a 125.2 passer rating.
Rodgers, though, knows the Packers can’t afford another slow start and expect to win against the Cowboys.
Asked what they had to do better against the Cowboys, Rodgers said: “We’ve got to start faster. Dallas is a great football team. [Cowboys rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott] have been playing great all season. They’re not playing like rookies, they’re both in the MVP conversation.
22 Touchdown passes by Aaron Rodgers, with no interceptions, over the past eight games heading into next week’s divisional playoff against the Cowboys
“We can’t let them run behind that offensive line. We’ve got to start fast and make them as one-dimensional as possible.”
That was the Cowboys’ formula for their early-season win at Lambeau Field. Elliott had one of his best games of the season, rushing for 157 yards on 28 carries. As a team, the Cowboys averaged 5.8 yards a carry.
But, for as many strides as Rodgers has taken, the Packers feel the same way about their defense. They are riding high after holding the Giants to 365 total yards, including only 70 rushing.
“[Elliott] is a well put together running back, so looking forward to the challenge,” nose tackle Letroy Guion said. “But Packers are doing good right now, so let’s go. … Hats off to the rookie, but Pack coming to town, baby.”
There’s no doubt that the Packers view themselves as contenders once again and rightfully so.
The Cowboys beat the Packers 30-16 on Oct. 16 in Green Bay with Ezekiel Elliott leading the way with 157 rushing yards and Cole Beasley hauling in two touchdowns.
Rodgers and the defense appeared to be in peak form, and the team even managed to overcome a questionable coaching decision by McCarthy.
With a 14-6 lead and 6:08 left in the third quarter, McCarthy opted to go for a fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 42. The gamble backfired when Ty Montgomery was stopped for a 1-yard loss.
“Just wasn’t there and just didn’t convert it,” Montgomery said.
Two plays later, the Giants made it a 14-13 game when Eli Manning hit Tavarres King for a 41-yard touchdown. But Rodgers and the Packers responded on the next drive.
Rodgers led a four-play, 63-yard scoring drive, capped with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Cobb. That gave the Packers a 21-13 lead and they essentially put the game out of reach with a field goal on their next offensive drive for a 24-13 lead.
The Packers tacked on two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter for good measure — a 16-yard TD from Rodgers to Cobb and a 1-yard TD run by fullback Aaron Ripkowski.
These last six weeks we’ve found something and obviously our defense is playing really well to boot. It’s going to be a hell of a game.
Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga
“Once we got going [on offense], we were excellent,” McCarthy said.
With the Packers winning, the Cowboys avoid playing a team that beat them twice this season. The Giants could only blame themselves afterward.
They outplayed the Packers in the first half, but settled for a pair of field goals. Receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard each dropped touchdown passes on what became a field goal drive.
Then, in the second half, they had more blunders. The most notable was running back Bobby Rainey losing his balance and running out of bounds at the 3 when catching a kickoff, leading to a three-and-out drive by the Giants.
In the end, it all leads to another playoff matchup between two storied franchises. Sunday will mark the eighth time the Cowboys and Packers have faced each other in the postseason with the Cowboys owning a 4-3 record.
The Packers won the last meeting in a 2014 divisional round matchup. Before that, the teams met three consecutive years from 1993-95 with the Cowboys winning all of them. The Cowboys also won a 1982 divisional round game. Green Bay beat Dallas in the 1966 and 1967 postseasons.
But the past doesn’t matter at this point, not even the meeting in October. The Packers are a much different team as they showed against the Giants, and are excited to see the Cowboys again.
“We’re ready, man,” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “We’re rolling right now and that table is not done being ran. So we’ve got to keep that going for a few more games and then we’ll get what we want in the end.
“We’ve got to keep at it, keep playing well in all three phases and I think we’ll like where we’ll be at.”
NYG—FG Gould 26, 5:44.
NYG—FG Gould 40, 7:24.
GB—D.Adams 5 pass from A.Rodgers (Crosby kick), 2:20.
GB—Cobb 42 pass from A.Rodgers (Crosby kick), :00.
NYG—King 41 pass from Manning (Gould kick), 5:16.
GB—Cobb 30 pass from A.Rodgers (Crosby kick), 2:53.
GB—FG Crosby 32, :21.
GB—Cobb 16 pass from A.Rodgers (Crosby kick), 9:19.
GB—Ripkowski 1 run (Crosby kick), 2:43.
Total Net Yards
Time of Possession
RUSHING—New York, Perkins 10-30, Jennings 5-29, Manning 1-11, Rainey 1-0. Green Bay, Michael 10-47, Montgomery 11-27, Ripkowski 2-1, A.Rodgers 2-0.
PASSING—New York, Manning 23-44-1-299. Green Bay, A.Rodgers 25-40-0-362.
RECEIVING—New York, Tye 4-66, Shepard 4-63, Beckham 4-28, King 3-73, Cruz 3-30, Perkins 3-27, Rainey 1-8, Jennings 1-4. Green Bay, D.Adams 8-125, Cobb 5-116, Cook 5-48, Montgomery 3-41, Ripkowski 2-11, Nelson 1-13, Allison 1-8.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.
AFC — Steelers 30, Dolphins 12
NFC — Packers 38, Giants 13
Saturday, Jan. 14
NFC — Seahawks (10-5-1) at Falcons (11-5), 3:35 p.m., KDFW/4
AFC — Texans (9-7) at Patriots (14-2), 7:15 p.m., KTVT/11
Sunday, Jan. 15
AFC — Steelers (11-5) at Chiefs (12-4), 12:05 p.m., KXAS/5
NFC — Packers (11-6) at Cowboys (13-3), 3:40 p.m., KDFW/4