After being eliminated from the playoffs on the last play in each of the previous three seasons, the Packers experienced last-second joyousness in the 34-31 win over Dallas on Sunday. Plain and simple folks, this one lived up to the hype. After a Wild Card weekend full of blowouts, this is exactly the type of game the NFL needed. We got arguably the best player on the planet in Aaron Rodgers, providing to be just a little better than a team led by a couple of rookies in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Hats off to the rookies and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys; they appear to be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.
What do the Packers have to show for their effort? Green Bay will face the Atlanta Falcons on the road in the NFC Championship Game Sunday, and if this week was any indication of what is to come, this one should be a high scoring, up-and-down the field battle between two of the hottest offenses to take the field this season. Before I get to excited about next week though, here are the lessons learned from the memorable showdown in the big D.
Crosby “Clutch” in Playoffs
Mason Crosby nailed two field goals over 50 yards in the final 98 seconds Sunday night, and actually banged home three 50-plus yard attempts during that time, hitting a try that was negated by Jason Garrett’s fruitless icing attempt. Despite getting “iced,” Crosby drilled the 51-yarder a second time as time expired and a celebration ensued.
Crosby became the first player to make two 50-yard field goals in the final two minutes of a playoff game. Crosby’s 51-yarder is the longest game-winning field goal in NFL postseason history – per NFL Research – and the two 50-plus yarders were the first makes from that distance in Crosby’s playoff career. The Packers’ kicker has made 23 consecutive postseason field goals, extending his own NFL record. If that isn’t “clutch” I don’t know what is. More importantly it gives himself, McCarthy, and all the Green Bay faithful out there every bit of confidence that if – or should I say most likely when – we need another such kick at the end of a game this postseason, he’s going to pound it through with no hesitation. He also has the confidence of his quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and that’s good enough for me!
“For Mason to hit those two kicks, he’s the best kicker in the league, and he’s got to do it outdoors for most of the season on a tough field at times, and he’s so reliable for us. He’s made a bunch of them in the playoffs. It’s just incredible that he makes it twice.” – Aaron Rodgers
Secondary Issues, Cause for Concern
The Packers begin Sunday with defensive back issues as CB Quinten Rollins continues to work through the NFL’s concussion protocol, while fellow second year CB Damarious Randall continues to battle through a foot injury. When starting SS Morgan Burnett was sidelined early in the game with a thigh injury, Prescott and the Dallas offense took advantage with a clutch second half. Prescott made several big throws digging Dallas out of its 15-point deficit and the Green Bay defense didn’t seem to have an answer. Green Bay was able to hang on in the end, but the question is, can the Packers make enough stops to hang with MVP front-runner Matt Ryan? He’s the league’s most efficient passer, and he leads Atlanta’s No. 1 scoring offense. Can the Packers defense slow down that offense if they’re forced to resort to backups on the back end?
No Jordy? No Problem!
With many Packer faithful wondering if the Packers could overcome the number one seeded Cowboys without injured WR Jordy Nelson, it’s worth mentioning that Rodgers has actually hit his playoff stride without his overall top receiver.
Rodgers completed four of 10 passes for 32 yards and generated zero points on the first four drives before Nelson suffered injured ribs in the wild-card round against the Giants. Since Nelson was injured in the second quarter of that game, Rodgers has completed 49 of 73 throws (67.1%) for 686 yards, six TDs and one INT for a passer rating of 118.8. In 6+ quarters without Nelson on the field, Green Bay has been almost unstoppable, scoring 72 points. Bottom line? Even if Nelson isn’t available for the NFC title game in Atlanta, Rodgers and Co. are more than capable of blowing the top off the Georgia Dome’s finale and the Atlanta Falcons’ 28th-ranked pass defense.
Don’t get that bit of information confused. Rodgers and the Packers offense would be better suited with Nelson on the field, and I am not suggesting otherwise. I am simply stating the stats suggest it can be done without him, and the wins prove it to be true. I would also like to assume that Jordy will not come back if he is not able to be as effective as he was before the injury. Throwing a guy in there who hasn’t practiced in two weeks could do more harm than good to a team who is as hot as the Packers are right now, and I’m not so sure McCarthy or Rodgers wants to throw a monkey wrench into anything they have going at the moment.
No doubt about it, the win at Dallas was special. It’s one we will remember for a while. Well, we hope. If Green Bay goes to Atlanta this Sunday and falls short of playing for another Super Bowl Title, it was all for naught. Same goes for the remarkable win streak Green Bay has put together over the last eight weeks. Ultimately the Packers have had a good season. But let’s be honest here: good isn’t the expectation the team or the fans had going into the season. The team and the fans all have great expectations. At this point, the only thing that will suffice is a trip to the Super Bowl, and returning the Lombari Trophy to its rightful home in Title Town.
With a lot of question marks early in the week in terms of injuries and player availability, a prediction is tough. One thing I can almost guarantee is that this is a must-watch game. There is sure to be scoring and a lot of it. The Atlanta Falcons have the highest scoring offense in the league and it ranks seventh all time. Green Bay has the best overall player in the league playing quarterback and has scored 30+ points the last six weeks. Tune in, and plan your bathroom breaks strategically because you’re not gonna want to miss a snap. In full shootout fashion I have the Packers heading to Houston with a 45-37 final score. Go Pack!