GREEN BAY – The throw was sublime, the sideline catch an artful masterpiece, but the Green Bay Packers' game-winning play call Sunday night was a collaboration.
With the Packers facing third-and-20 at their own 32-yard line and 12 seconds left, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had what coach Mike McCarthy described as a “menu” of concepts to draw from. The aspects varied from certain pass protections to specific routes for the down, distance and game situation.
It was Rodgers’ job to pick the best concepts. But while he largely was in control of what his teammates did on the Packers' final offensive snap in their 34-31 win against the Dallas Cowboys, Rodgers didn’t make the play up from scratch.
“He orchestrates that drive,” McCarthy said. “The ability to change the protection, particularly on the last play, and he did a really nice job after the sack earlier in that series. So the protection call, outstanding. The crossing route concept coming from the other side, it’s an outstanding selection by him.
“And with that, the execution was fantastic.”
On the play, Rodgers rolled to his left. Left guard Lane Taylor pulled outside the pocket, providing extra protection.
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Rodgers directed tight end Jared Cook, who was lined up offset from right tackle Bryan Bulaga, to run a crossing route to the left sideline. Rookie Trevor Davis and veteran receiver Randall Cobb, lined up in the perimeter and slot outside Cook, ran deep post patterns. Davante Adams, the lone receiver split left, ran a go route.
Rodgers found Cook, who had gotten open underneath Adams on the left sideline, for 36 yards with three seconds left to set up kicker Mason Crosby’s game-winning 51-yard field goal as time expired.
“We just moved the pocket a little bit there,” Rodgers said. “We had Davante clearing out, Cook and Cobb coming in over the next side. It worked out the way we hoped it would, protection wise. Lane was out there in front blocking for me, and I just kind of took my eyes back inside, and I allowed Cook to get back on the inside and he made a great catch.”
The execution was a continuation of what has been perhaps the most clutch 13 months of Rodgers’ career.
Since his game-winning Hail Mary on an untimed down in Detroit late in the 2015 season, Rodgers has completed five of his past seven passes traveling at least 30 yards downfield inside the final minute of one-score games. Those completions have gained 258 yards and two touchdowns.
There are enough memorable plays since December 2015 to fill the careers of many quarterbacks. Beyond his three Hail Mary completions, Rodgers has completed a fourth-and-20 from his own 4-yard line in Arizona. A third-and-11 to Jordy Nelson in Chicago. The third-and-20 to Cook on Sunday night.
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The most recent play, a throw and catch that put the Packers in their third NFC title game since Rodgers became the franchise’s starter, will be remembered as one of the clutch performances in the quarterback’s career.
“It’s one of the greatest plays that you’ll ever see in that final two minute,” McCarthy said. “We call it the final eight (plays) situation for us. But, yes, the orchestration and the protection call, the route concept, great, great job with it.”