ARLINGTON, TEXAS – When Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers got the ball with 1 minute, 13 seconds left in the game Sunday, trailing the Dallas Cowboys, 31-28, it must have seemed like an eternity compared to the last time they were at AT&T Stadium.
They needed 75 yards for the win this time around, and given the two extra points kicker Mason Crosby had missed earlier, they absolutely needed to score a touchdown to assure a second straight victory here.
In the divisional round playoffs in January they had only 35 seconds to get from the 25 to get into field-goal range.
“We’ve been through that before,” said receiver Davante Adams who caught the game-winning 12-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left. “We’ve been through that before in this building.”
The extra time proved crucial because unlike that improbable 42-yard drive that ended up vaulting them into the NFC Championship, the Packers were able to stick with everything that had led them on scoring drives of 75, 60, 71 and 73 yards using a combined 44 plays.
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It meant the emergence of rookie running back Aaron Jones, who in his first career start carried 19 times for 125 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first Packers back to gain 100 yards since Ty Montgomery had 162 against Chicago on Dec. 18 of last year.
In a matter of a half or so, the Packers went from hearing the opposing defense chuckle at their attempts at fooling it with play-action to actually fooling it with play-action. Jones did more for the Packers’ offense than anyone had since the hero of the 2016 comeback here, tight end Jared Cook.
“I told him before the game, ‘I have zero worries about him back there,’ ” Rodgers said. “He is a great kid, he’s a great rookie. His vision was fantastic. He gives you a lot of confidence when you give him the ball.”
Rodgers was missing receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) on the last drive and left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring) for a fourth straight game, but it didn’t matter. He ran the offense the way it’s supposed to look.
Here’s how the final drive played out:
1-10, GB 25 (1:13 left) – Rodgers had Adams wide to the left and tight end Martellus Bennett and receivers Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison to the right. Jones was lined up to Rodgers’ left in a shotgun formation.
The Cowboys were in a package the Packers call “Dime-32” for the six defensive backs that features top cornerback Orlando Scandrick (No. 32) in prime position to play the run, blitz or cover the slot receiver. It features three down linemen and two inside linebackers upfront and two safeties splitting the field in the back end.
Adams gave rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis a jab step inside and then a move to the sideline. Rodgers threw the ball short and to the outside to allow Adams to haul in a classic back shoulder pass for a 14-yard gain.
“The key to any good 2-minute drive is the first play,” Rodgers said. “You’ve got to get some positive yards. (We) actually set up the entire final sequence to get Davante on the back shoulder to start the whole drive. That ultimately sets up the ‘wing’ pass.
“Because he’s playing high shoulder on the first play, (you use) the back shoulder. He’s playing low on the last play, over the top.”
1-10, GB 39 (1:09): After blitzing Scandrick on first down, Cowboys defensive coordinator switched things up and blitzed safety Byron Jones and kept Scandrick back.
Rodgers, seeing both safeties way back, swung the ball out to Bennett, who broke linebacker Justin Durant’s tackle and got upfield for a 14-yard gain.
“It comes down to the little things being executed perfectly,” Rodgers said. “Marty did a great catch on that ball at his ankles, getting the first down. It was the important plays at the most important time by those guys.”
1-10, Dallas 47 (0:47): The Cowboys brought a blitz to Rodgers’ left side with Jones and linebacker Anthony Hitchens.
This time it caused his slant to Adams to be tipped at the line and fall incomplete setting up a second and long.
2-10, Dallas 47 (0:45): With only Allison lined up to the right, Rodgers called a quick-hitting run play to the right.
The Cowboys had their linebackers up at the line of scrimmage, so when right tackle Bryan Bulaga kicked out end DeMarcus Lawrence and right guard Jahri Evans walled off Hitchens, Aaron Jones had a hole to run through. Not only did he gain 15 yards, but he got out of bounds.
“They had a lot of DBs in the secondary, really no backers in the box,” Jones said. “He was like, ‘We’re going to hand this off and go get some yards. (Allison) gave me a great block and that allowed me to get out of bounds.”
Had Jones not already topped the 100-yard mark the prospect of giving him the ball in a clutch situation seemed unlikely.
“I would have been a lot more hesitant to,” Rodgers said.
Said Bulaga: “They were playing their ‘Dime 32’ the whole drive so there were some runs that were available. When you have that option, especially with some time left you have a chance to get some yardage.”
1-10, Dallas 32 (0:39): Rodgers got pressure up the middle from David Irving and got rid of the ball down the right sideline just before getting knocked down. The ball sailed over Allison’s head.
2-10, Dallas 32 (0:35): With a pair of receivers to each side, Rodgers liked the way the Cowboys were lined up and chose to go with Jones.
However, left guard Justin McCray missed his block on Durant and Jones managed just 2 yards, forcing coach Mike McCarthy to use his final timeout.
“That was one of those ‘RPOs’ as they call them,” Rodgers said of a run-pass option called at the line of scrimmage.
3-8, Dallas 30 (0:29): Rodgers wanted Bennett on a short route to the left, but Bennett was covered, so he scrambled to the left to buy more time. He avoided the arm tackles of Benson Mayowa and Irving as he pulled the ball down and ran for the first-down marker.
“I was talking to him afterward and he told me he was thinking he could have scored there,” left tackle Lane Taylor said. “He was flying out there and he decided to get out of bounds.”
The 18-yard gain gave the Packers a crucial first down and a chance to go for the victory.
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1-10, Dallas 12 (0:21): Rodgers called a ‘wing’ pass – thrown to the outside that the receiver spins around to catch on the opposite side of the cornerback – but his throw to Adams was low and outside.
Adams came back to the huddle and gave Rodgers a look that said, "Try it again."
2-10, Dallas 12 (0:16): Adams runs the same route and this time the throw is on the money.
“Great play by Davante and Aaron running the 2-minute drill,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know what else to say.”