Goska: 'December Dagger' stands alone
The Green Bay Packers' final regular-season play against the Bears last December won't lead to any victories this season.
But revisiting that remarkable touchdown is sure to pump up the considerable optimism that's brewing as training camp starts.
Furthermore, a glance back just might increase appreciation for how extraordinary that decisive score truly was.
To recap: the Packers trailed the Bears 28-27 with 6 minutes, 32 seconds left. Adam Podlesh punted to Micah Hyde, who called for a fair catch that gave Green Bay the ball at its 13-yard line.
John Kuhn's 1-yard run from deep in Packers territory erased one fourth down. Aaron Rodgers' 6-yard pass to Jordy Nelson at midfield converted a second.
Then, after a 2-yard run by Eddie Lacy was sandwiched between two incompletions, the Packers faced fourth down for a third time. In sub-freezing temperatures at Soldier Field, they lacked 8 yards against a bitter rival that was less than a minute away from sweeping them for the first time in six years.
That's when Rodgers, forced to his left by a hard-charging Julius Peppers, launched a pass that traveled nearly 60 yards in the air. Slowing slightly, receiver Randall Cobb accepted the throw at the Bears' 10, then outraced cornerback Zackary Bowman to the end zone with 38 seconds remaining.
Four plays later, Sam Shields intercepted Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to end the game.
That Rodgers-to-Cobb rainbow not only delivered a 33-28 win, but it also ensured a winning season for Green Bay and a third consecutive NFC North title. On further review, the winning pass was likely the longest offensive play on which the Packers have ended a regular season.
Certainly that long ball was a departure from what's transpired in recent years. In 16 of the previous 20 seasons (1993-2012), quarterbacks such as Jim McMahon, J.T. O'Sullivan, Ingle Martin and others took a knee to end the season.
Certainly the high-flying act from a duo just returning from injury was the longest scoring play to cap a regular season. Green Bay has closed on a scoring note at most seven times since 1921. The longest of those plays had been a 34-yard strike from Red Dunn to Rex Enright in a 17-9 win over the Frankford Yellow Jackets in 1927.
So how rare was Rodgers-to-Cobb? To better understand, let's leave rushing plays aside and turn to the passing game.
Since 1932, the Packers have been responsible for 434 regular-season TD passes of 40 or more yards. At least one has been launched every season except 1949 and 1973.
Don Milan tossed one. Jack Losch, too. Joe Francis, Ron Widby and Alan Risher, a strike replacement player in 1987, also are on the list.
Since 1932, Green Bay has produced 303 TD passes in the fourth quarter. At least one has struck pay dirt every year except 1945 and 1977.
Bobby Douglass pitched one as did Carlos Brown. Rick Norton, Paul Ott Carruth and Rich Campbell are others.
But the numbers drop quickly when considering the intersection of these sets. In the last 82 years, the Packers have fired 66 fourth-quarter TD passes of 40 or more yards.
Limit ourselves further — to the final 2 minutes of a game — and only six throws of that distance reached the end zone. Of those, just four were game-winners.
The December Dagger is the only one to occur in a regular-season finale.
For Rodgers and Cobb, Chicago was not the first time they turned back an opponent in the closing minutes, albeit from closer range. On Nov. 18, 2012, Rodgers fired a 22-yard TD to Cobb with 1:55 left that put Green Bay out front for good in a 24-20 victory in Detroit.
Beating an opponent in the last 2 minutes with a TD pass regardless of length is special. Green Bay has done so 24 times since 1932.
Five of those triumphs came against Chicago. The previous four are worth mentioning.
In 1935, Arnie Herber and Don Hutson clicked on a 3-yard effort to forge a 17-14 win. In 1984, Campbell found Phillip Epps on a 43-yard score to secure a 20-14 victory.
Nearly five years later, Don Majkowski connected late with Sterling Sharpe in a 14-13 squeaker. In the 2009 opener, Rodgers teamed with Greg Jennings on a 50-yarder to down Chicago 21-15.
The lethal combination of Rodgers and Cobb stacks up with any of those. In fact, given its rarity and what it delivered, the play should go down as among the greatest in team history.
■ Brett Favre holds the Packers' record for most fourth-quarter TD passes with 98. Rodgers is second with 46.
■ Favre holds the team record for most TD passes of 40 or more yards with 59. Bart Starr (43) is second and Rodgers (34) is third.
Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette Media correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of "Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness," a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long, late and lethal
The Packers' game-winning throws of 40 or more yards that occurred in the final two minutes of a regular-season game.
Yds. Quarterback-Receiver Opp. Date
75 Babe Parilli-Bill Howton Colts Oct. 27, 1957
50 Aaron Rodgers-Greg Jennings Bears Sept. 13, 2009
48 Aaron Rodgers-Randall Cobb Bears Dec. 29, 2013
43 Rich Campbell-Phillip Epps Bears Dec. 9, 1984
Note: Brett Favre had two game-winning throws of more than 40 yards in overtime. The first was a 43-yarder to Antonio Freeman that beat the Vikings 26-20 on Nov. 6, 2000. The second was an 82-yard strike to Greg Jennings that broke the Broncos 19-13 on Oct. 29, 2007.