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In a playoff classic, the Green Bay Packers scored 13 unanswered points to beat the Dallas Cowboys 26-21 in front of a sold-out crowd at Lambeau Field.
The two iconic franchises will remember this game for two very different reasons.
For Dallas, it’s the controversial overturn of an apparent Dez Bryant reception late in the fourth quarter. Facing a fourth-and-2 from Green Bay’s 32-yard line, the Cowboys bypassed a long field goal attempt and went for it.
Quarterback Tony Romo, recognizing one-on-one coverage on the outside against Bryant, killed the play called in the huddle and took a shot down the sidelines to his all-pro receiver.
Bryant went up and plucked the ball out of the air, appearing to make one of the finest plays in NFL playoff history. The officials ruled completion, giving the Cowboys the ball at Green Bay’s one-yard line.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, watching on Lambeau Field’s jumbotron, saw that the ball came loose upon making impact with the ground. He challenged the play, arguing that Bryant did not complete the process of the catch going to the ground. Bryant did manage to pull the ball in while laying on the turf, but the fact that the ground jarred the ball loose was enough to result in the officials overturning the call on the field.
Common sense says Bryant caught the ball, but the NFL playbook is not a book of sense.
By rule, if a player does not complete the process of the catch going to the ground, the officials are obligated to rule incomplete. In other words, according to the rules instituted by the NFL, this wasn’t a catch. Fox’s rules expert Mike Pereira, who astutely compared the play to the infamous Calvin Johnson catch that wasn’t in week one of 2010, emphasized this point during the telecast and post game.
All that said, it’s a bad rule and I suspect the competition committee will receive more pressure this off-season than ever before to do away with the rule.
The other storyline, one that will go down in Green Bay lore, was the courageous performance by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Limited because of a tear in his left calf, Rodgers played perhaps the best postseason game of his career, completing 24-of-35 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns. He extended his home streak of no interceptions to 17 games.
Rodgers, doing most of his work from the pocket, played better as the game progressed. He completed his final 10 pass attempts, including going a perfect 9-for-9 in the fourth quarter.
He saved his best for third down.
Facing a third-and-15 late in the third quarter, he hit Davante Adams for a 46-yard touchdown. Adams, who made a great move on Dallas safety J.J. Wilcox in the open field, finished the game with seven receptions for 117 yards.
Green Bay finished the game 9-for-14 (64 percent) on third downs. It was their ninth conversion that sealed victory.
Up against a third-and-11 with two minutes remaining, Rodgers connected with receiver Randall Cobb for a gain of 12 yards. Cobb, who finished the game with eight receptions for 116 yards, had to go down to the ground to secure the catch because a Dallas defender managed to knick the ball just as Rodgers released it.
The catch clinched victory for the Packers, who now travel to Seattle where their season began last September.
Next Sunday, the Packers hope Seattle isn’t where it ends.