GREEN BAY - In the visiting locker room at AT&T Stadium on Sunday evening, members of the Green Bay Packers were deluged with questions about the game-winning field goal by Mason Crosby and the remarkable 36-yard pass by Aaron Rodgers that made said kick possible.
In the home locker room at AT&T Stadium on Sunday evening, members of the Dallas Cowboys were asked repeatedly about a failed third-down attempt on their final offensive possession of the game. The pass from quarterback Dak Prescott was broken up, and the Cowboys settled for a field goal to tie the game rather than a touchdown that might have won it.
Such variance captures the difference in perception between winning and losing: The Cowboys lost because they could not score a touchdown to give themselves a four-point lead; the Packers won because they converted a ludicrous third down and followed up with a successful 51-yard field goal.
“Obviously, a fantastic finish,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s what these games come down to.”
Applying a Packers’ twist to the Dallas perspective breeds an appreciation for outside linebacker Nick Perry, whose broken hand is still wrapped in a club on game days. Perry, who will be an unrestricted free agent in March, was the main reason for Prescott’s incompletion on that pivotal third-and-3 with 44 seconds remaining: He jumped in the air with both arms raised and knocked the ball to the ground.
The Cowboys were left to attempt a game-tying field goal instead of scoring what might have been a game-winning touchdown.
“He really wasn’t rushing,” Prescott said. “(He) planted in to the offensive lineman and jumped up and got his hands on it. Good play by him.”
Said Perry: “I wish I had my other hand. I probably could have caught it, but it came out really fast. I just wanted to get the ball down. That was my initial thought rushing the passer on that play.
“I saw him very quickly and I saw that he was getting ready to throw it. That’s when I immediately jumped. Just being an instinctive player out there, you’ve got to make those kinds of decisions in the blink of an eye.”
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The cruciality of Perry’s deflection justifies the decision by McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers to play him even with the club, which was originally donned in the second half against the Houston Texans on Dec. 4. Much like fellow outside linebackers Clay Matthews (shoulder) and Julius Peppers (who turns 37 on Wednesday), both of whom are playing below their career standards, the idea that Perry will conjure two or three moments of brilliance in each game keeps him on the field.
Against the Cowboys, when Perry played 54 percent of snaps, he bolstered his terrific pass breakup with two of the Packers’ four hits on Prescott. One of them was a 5-yard sack in the fourth quarter.
“A play like that is all about attitude, do whatever you have to do to get off the field,” outside linebacker Datone Jones said. “You have to win your one-on-one battle, do your job, stay in your gap, be disciplined enough to handle your assignment. That’s the game we’ve been playing that’s been keeping us on a run. Everybody in the locker room just doing their job and counting on one another.”
Perry said there is no timetable for how long he must wear the club to protect his surgically repaired hand. He and the medical staff discuss it on a daily and weekly basis to determine what Perry feels comfortable with and how much pain he might be enduring.
The hand was still swollen during the open locker room session Monday, and a large surgical scar runs across the top.
“I don’t want to have any setbacks moving forward,” Perry said. “I’ll play it smart and we’ll continue to move forward (based on) how I feel.”
Though he led the Packers in sacks with 11 during the regular season, Perry is best known for his stoutness against the run, evidenced by a team-high 12 tackles for loss. Defensive end Mike Daniels finished second with 8.
But it’s the run game that suffers most from wearing the club. Perry cannot grasp and pull opposing linemen. It’s more difficult for him to shed blocks at the point of attack, which minimizes his overall effectiveness outside of the aforementioned spurts.
“I still can pop blocks but I can’t grab, and that’s essential when you’re in the trenches because you can control the player a little bit better,” Perry said. “So I lose a little bit on that part. But I have to use my feet a little bit more to move around, just using my other hand more and moving my feet more. That’s really all I can do. And use my cast hand when I can, bull rush and attack. I think that’s important as well.”
So while his influence on games may have waned, the clubbed version of Perry will continue to play heavy reps Sunday in the NFC title game.
It only takes one or two plays to change the game, and Perry did just that against Dallas.