50 in 50: Aaron Rodgers finds Jared Cook and the Packers stun the Cowboys in Dallas
With the sports world on hold, we present a countdown of the 50 greatest moments in Wisconsin sports history over the past 50 years. This is No. 44.
AT&T Stadium is playfully known as "Jerryworld" in honor of billionaire businessman Jerry Jones, the owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys team that calls the venue home.
But make no mistake. That building belongs to Aaron Rodgers.
Since it opened in 2009, Green Bay has had the upper hand in the Packers-Cowboys rivalry, perhaps an underrated entrant on the rundown of Wisconsin sports rivalries. It's the venue where the Packers won Super Bowl XLV against Pittsburgh, and Green Bay has defeated Dallas in that building on all four occasions in which they've played there — games that have included some dramatic circumstances.
Overall, since "Jerryworld" opened, the Packers are 8-1 against the Cowboys in both Dallas and Green Bay. That includes a 2015 win in the NFC divisional round when Dez Bryant controversially "didn't catch it" at Lambeau Field. Two years later, Green Bay played another divisional round game against the Cowboys, this time in Dallas against the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
On January 15, 2017, the Packers and Cowboys headed into their playoff battle tied in all-time series at 17 apiece. Green Bay had a 28-13 lead after the third quarter, but the Cowboys rallied back to tie the game on Dan Bailey's field goal with 35 seconds to go.
Overtime, right? Remember: This is Aaronworld.
Was this Aaron's greatest pass?
"Comes underneath and the pass is incomplete, out of bounds ... now they say complete. The official, the second one, came in and overruled the other. Jared Cook. And with three seconds left, the Packers are going to have a chance to win it."
Those were the words of Joe Buck on the Fox broadcast of the game. As the replays cycled through, it dawned on Joe and Troy Aikman how magical the play had been.
It had been a third and 20 snap from the 32-yard line with 12 seconds left. Rodgers had made it no secret that he was looking for his tight end, having thrown incomplete to Cook twice already on the frenzied final drive. But here again, with the Packers' back against the wall, Cook worked open on the sideline and dropped to his knees with his feet dragging in bounds as he caught the 36-yard pass from Rodgers.
"He orchestrates that drive," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers. "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."
It wasn't the first time and wouldn't be the last that Rodgers made a throw which looked like a surefire incompletion, and yet it wasn't. Now, the Packers had the ball at the Dallas 32-yard line with 3 seconds left.
"We just moved the pocket a little bit there," Rodgers said. "We had Davante (Adams) clearing out, Cook and (Randall) 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."
Mason Crosby does the rest
After a booth review, kicker Mason Crosby attempted a 51-yard field goal. It was good, but the Cowboys made sure to call timeout before the kick, so the boot was moot.
No matter. Crosby, a native of Texas who re-signed on a three-year deal with the Packers in February of 2020, tried again, and though the second kick appeared to be curling left at first, it safely sliced back through the uprights, and the Packers celebration began. The Packers had won, 3
"I didn't know how to react," Crosby said. "I just bent down. I was so thankful for that opportunity to win the game. There's nothing better than that."
It may be perhaps Crosby's biggest kick in his lengthy Packers career, at the time wrapping up its 10th season. Green Bay was headed to the NFC Championship Game, a destination for four Packers teams during the Rodgers era (and five in the Crosby era).
Is it Aaron Rodgers' greatest throw, considering the moment and the execution? It wasn't a touchdown pass, so perhaps it won't make the Hall of Fame highlight reel. But in a big moment of a playoff battle featuring two of the NFL's staple franchises, it was a moment that won't soon be forgotten.
What's more is that Rodgers delivered one of his best performances without the services of his top receiver, Jordy Nelson, who was injured. Rodgers finished with 356 yards and two touchdown passes.
"It is incredible watching him," said Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. "I hate it in this circumstance, but he's an incredible quarterback."
How the moment lives on
The win ultimately ended with an unsatisfying postscript when the Packers fell to Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game, 44-21.
However, the Packers returned to the scene the following Oct. 8 and staged yet another comeback win, immortalized by a Oshkosh fan's viral snapchat post. Then, they won again last year, when Aaron Jones waved goodbye.
Now comes an interesting twist to the saga with former Packers coach Mike McCarthy replacing Jason Garrett as head coach in Dallas. McCarthy was fired after a dismal follow up to this season with the Cowboys victory, replaced in 2019 by Matt LaFleur, who once again led the Packers back to the NFC title game.
Aaron Rodgers may not be the star quarterback he once was, but he's still a formidable threat that has kept the Packers a relevant title contender.
Did Dez catch it?
Rule changes in subsequent years supposedly clarified the NFL catch rules enough that the playoff battle Jan. 11, 2015 would have ended differently. Dez would have caught it.
But his 31-yard snare on fourth and 2 down near the goal line was ruled incomplete on review at the time; Bryant didn't "complete the process," and the Packers escaped with a 26-21 victory in the NFC Divisional Round. Instead of needing a goal-line stop with 4:06 to play, Green Bay was able to milk the rest of the clock, with a pair of third-down conversions to seal it.
The play outshone a superb drive by Rodgers to give his team the lead early in the third quarter, when he completed all seven of his passes and capped it with a Richard Rodgers 13-yard touchdown.
Rules of the 50 in 50 series
- Moments are recorded over the 50-year window from 1970 to 2019 (sorry 2020, but you're disqualified)
- These are moments and not achievements, although that largely goes hand-in-hand.
- These are "greatest" 50 moments, so you won't see moments that are pivotal but ultimately heartbreaking (like the NFC Championship loss to Seattle, Kareem getting traded, etc.)
- You also won't see (many) moments that came to be recognized for their greatness later, such as the day the Bucks drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo or the day the Packers traded for Brett Favre.
- Moments considered include teams based in Wisconsin and Wisconsin athletes competing in individual sports or as part of national teams (such as the Olympics), or moments on Wisconsin soil.
- These are singular moments. You're supposed to remember where you were when they happened.
JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.