For most mortals, 35 seconds to go and the score tied means overtime. But that’s not the thought process of Aaron Rodgers.
He looked up and thought, “There’s too much time on the clock.”
The NFL’s hottest quarterback would make one of the most memorable throws of a legendary career to put the Green Bay Packers in position to beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-31 at AT&T Stadium on Sunday and advance to the NFC Championship Game.
The game-winning field goal came in improbable fashion after the Cowboys tied the score in the final minute. On third down with 12 seconds remaining, Rodgers dialed up some all-too-familiar magic.
Scrambling to his left, he rifled a 36-yard completion to Jared Cook, who dragged his toes in-bounds at the 32-yard line with 3 seconds on the clock. Mason Crosby followed with the kick that ended the Cowboys’ season.
As amazing as the final throw was, Rodgers and Packers coach Mike McCarthy said they’ve seen better.
“We’ve made those throws before in practice,” Rodgers said. “It’s a matter of trusting your muscle memory and your training.”
McCarthy admitted “the execution on the throw and catch were outstanding.” The Cowboys had sacked Rodgers on first down, and he missed Cook on a deep throw on second.
Instead of taking a knee and preparing for overtime, the Hail Mary king revved up for one more heave. The Super Bowl drive is alive because of it.
“This one’s special,” Rodgers said of the win. “More special than we’ve had around here in a while.”
Rodgers led the Packers to the Super Bowl in 2010, which was played at AT&T Stadium. On Sunday, he completed 28 of 43 for 356 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, despite being without leading receiver Jordy Nelson.
Cook caught six passes for 104 yards and a score. Ty Montgomery also had six receptions and scored on two short runs.
Despite coughing up an 18-point lead, the Packers are off to Atlanta riding an eight-game winning streak.
“I can’t say enough about my football team’s resiliency,” McCarthy said.
Praise for Cowboys
A number of Packers praised the Cowboys on their season, including McCarthy and Rodgers. Rodgers has been particularly impressed by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
“Dak and Zeke had phenomenal seasons, and I think it’s just the beginning for the Cowboys,” Rodgers said. “There’s going to be more battles like this over the years. They should be really proud of what they accomplished.”
Hold the ice
Crosby wasn’t bothered by the timeout before his 51-yard game-winning field goal. He went through with the first kick and it sailed right down the middle.
“I just came back to the sideline and started to go through the same process,” Crosby said. “Just wanted to think about hitting a smooth ball. It’s tough, but it’s something I practice, so the snap and hold were great and that always makes it easier. It’s pretty difficult having to do it twice in a row, but when the snap and hold are good, it makes it easier on me.”
The second try slipped inside the left upright to send Green Bay to Atlanta.