Packers Insider: Thumbs up to Rodgers, down to pass defense
THE BIG PICTURE
The Packers did it again, somehow conjuring up the same kind of dramatic victory they pulled off against the Cowboys in their last visit to AT&T Stadium in the NFC divisional playoffs last January. And they didn’t even have to go overtime in this one, scoring the winning touchdown with 11 seconds remaining to raise their record to 4-1. They are tied with the Panthers and Eagles for the best record in the conference and moved a half-game ahead of the idle Atlanta Falcons (3-1) in their all-important battle for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
This back-and-forth battle turned a number of times, but the most stunning moment might have been when beleaguered cornerback Damarious Randall intercepted Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown that put Green Bay back on top 28-24 midway through the fourth quarter. Up until then, the two offenses had been trading blows for virtually the entire game. But after a Packers punt pinned Dallas on its 12-yard-line, Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams let a Prescott pass bounce off his hands and into the waiting arms of Randall, who danced into the end zone to atone in part for immature behavior against the Bears that resulted in his being banished to the locker room. True, Randall was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for the way he celebrated his score, but it didn’t diminish the Packers’ first pick-6 since Randall made one against Oakland in 2015.
Aaron Rodgers returned to the scene of his spectacular 35-yard pass to Jared Cook on third-and-20 that set up the game-winning field goal in the Packers’ playoff conquest in January. And once again, he was working miracles. Forced once more to play behind a makeshift offensive line and without his top running back, Rodgers led the Packers back from an early 21-6 deficit and was masterful on the game-winning drive. With Green Bay trailing 31-28 and 1:13 left, he engineered a nine-play, 75-yard march that saw him elude a near-certain sack on third-and-8 and scamper down the sidelines for 18 yards. On the game-winning play, he dropped a perfect back-shoulder pass into the hands of Davante Adams in the end zone. Rodgers finished 19-for-29 for 221 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and a passer rating of 122.9.
The Packers’ pass defense suffered an early setback when talented rookie cornerback Kevin King exited in the first quarter with a concussion, ending his day. Veteran corner Davon House’s return from injury helped, and Randall contributed the big pick-6. But Prescott picked the Packers apart most of the afternoon, hitting on 25-of-36 passes for 251 yards and 3 TDs (and running for another) while taking only one sack.
Broken ribs benched Ty Montgomery and created a golden opportunity for rookie running back Aaron Jones, who stepped in against the Bears and carried 13 times for 49 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday, Jones delivered a truly eye-popping effort, rushing for 125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Jones figures to push Montgomery hard for playing time when the incumbent returns to action.
After getting away with playing a center and four guards against the Bears, the Packers were in a little better shape on the offensive line with right tackle Bryan Bulaga returning from a high ankle sprain. But left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring) again was inactive, meaning left guard Lane Taylor once more had to slide over to the outside with Justin McCray taking his place. There were issues with pass protection: Rodgers was sacked four times and took six quarterback hits as Dallas blitzed more than usual. But the line helped clear the way for Jones’ big day: On the second-quarter TD run, Jones blasted through a huge hole created by Bulaga and right guard Jahri Evans.
It was one thing for Adams to make a surprisingly speedy return after taking a vicious hit from Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan 10 days ago. It was quite another for him to then make the Packers’ first catch of the day and go on to make six more, including the game-winner from 12 yards out with 11 seconds to go. It was his second TD catch of the day and gave him a game-high 66 receiving yards.
The Packers really miss injured long snapper Brett Goode. Kicker Mason Crosby missed an unheard-of (for him) two extra-point attempts and at least one looked to be the result of a poor snap by replacement long snapper Taybor Pepper. On the plus side, Justin Vogel was called upon to punt only twice and boomed one of them 59 yards with no return.
BITS AND PIECES
• The Packers finally attempted their first kickoff return of the season. In the fourth quarter, Jeff Janis fielded a Dan Bailey kick at the 2 and returned it 17 yards.
• The Packers now have won seven of their last eight games against the Cowboys (regular season and postseason), with three of those wins coming at Dallas.
• Green Bay now leads the all-time regular-season series 15-13 over Dallas (the teams are 4-4 against each other in the postseason).
• Coach Mike McCarthy has won seven of his 10 games (regular season and postseason) against the Cowboys.
• Attendance for the game at AT&T Stadium was announced as 93,329.