It’s playoff time! The Green Bay Packers host the Dallas Cowboys in a divisional round playoff game at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Both teams have come a long way over the past year and have elevated to some of the best the NFC has to offer. So why, you ask, did I use an image from 2007? That was then, this is now so why not find a more recent shot?
Much of the talk about this game has surrounded the fact that the last time these teams met in a playoff game in Green Bay, it was the famous Ice Bowl. Some have even alluded to all of those heartbreaking playoff losses the Packers seemed to suffer in Dallas during the 1990’s. The images of Michael Irvin’s head slaps and Erik Williams chop blocking every Packers defensive linemen still haunt some of us to this day.
That picture is a post game shot of one of three losses the 2007 Packers suffered that season. Brett Favre started the game but was knocked out half way through and Aaron Rodgers was born. Not literally, of course. But when Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee has asked Rodgers what his “I belong” moment was, Rodgers says “Dallas, 2007” without any hesitation. It was in the latter part of that game that Rodgers proved to be a capable and very prepared back up quarterback. The Packers fell just short that night, but Rodgers ran the full offense and Packers head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t have to make any adjustments to accommodate the young quarterback. No reason to. He gave Packers nation a reason to believe that everything might still be alright when Favre left, then returned, then left again the following summer.
Maybe some other media outlet, podcast or talk show has talked about that 2007 game, but I doubt it’s been very often. Tony Romo was the Cowboys starting quarterback back then too. He’ll line up under center for Dallas this weekend and he and Rodgers will do battle for the first time since 2009. The teams have met twice since that game but Romo missed the 2010 contest and Rodgers was out last year in Dallas. Those 2007 Cowboys were lined up to be the NFC’s number one seed before they were knocked off by the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs. What we thought was a gifted path to Super Bowl XLII ended up being a stunning defeat at Lambeau Field and the end of Favre’s legend as a Packer.
Tony Romo spent some time during his youth in Burlington, Wisconsin. He was in high school when Favre was leading the Packers to their first Super Bowl appearance in nearly 30 years. On Sunday, he’ll try to add his own stamp to the playoff lore at Lambeau Field and try to hand the Packers their second-straight playoff loss on the frozen tundra.
Rodgers has barely practiced with the team. He has spent most of the last two weeks getting regular treatment for his slightly torn left calf. Injuries like that often take six-to-eight weeks to fully heal. The Packers were fortunate enough to have a bye week, but there’s no way the muscle has healed fully nor is it likely that it will before Green Bay’s season is over, one way or another. While it’s cause for concern among Packers fans and, even though they won’t admit as much, the team itself, Rodgers has exuded an abundance of calm and confidence. Immediately after the win over the Detroit Lions to secure the division title and first-round bye, Rodgers proclaimed that he would play in this week’s game. He’s been asked about the injury several times and each time he swiftly reminds the source that he’s getting treatment every day and he expects to play and be effective against the Cowboys.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy indicated that he hasn’t altered the game plan much to accommodate Rodgers’ potential lack of mobility. He never seems to have to. It sounds ridiculous when there’s a very real possibility that too much strain and stress could cause Rodgers to reinjure his calf. But is there any other Packers player, or I’d even venture to say, NFL player, that you’d rather gamble on?
Rodgers and these Packers understand what is in front of them. Rodgers called this team “special” and “hungry”. He’s been around for wild card losses, divisional round losses, conference championship losses and an amazing Super Bowl championship run. He’s seen it all. This is a man who can recall specific plays from his high school days so we know he has a great recollection of what that championship team did and had. After three disappointing postseason appearances that have followed, Rodgers knows that his future chances aren’t guaranteed and that this team has the talent to accomplish a lot. He has a core of veteran players who share his vision and desire: Clay Matthews, Josh Sitton, Julius Peppers, Tramon Williams, John Kuhn, Jordy Nelson to name a few.
Games aren’t won on experience or savvy. That’s why they’re played and not just decided by a coin flip or by some sports book in Vegas. The Packers were 8-0 at home this season and were impressive in accomplishing it. They were, at times, a very different team than the version that hit the road. The Cowboys were perfect on the road, disappointing the home crowd all eight times they went into someone else’s building. Many of these Dallas players have been to Lambeau Field before and won’t be phased by the mystique and hype. They all plan to come out in short sleeves and brave the same elements that the Packers themselves will be dealing with.
We can talk about the defenses and coverage schemes and which opposing players should draw the most attention. We can talk about the Packers special teams unit and how they hopefully won’t have to attempt a single field goal nor punt on Sunday (I can dream, right?). But it’s almost destiny that this game will come down to the quarterbacks. Rodgers saw his first significant action opposite Romo in an important game that ultimately put the pieces together that shaped that entire season. That was then, this is now. Seven years later, Rodgers will again take the field across from Romo, ready to shape this season into something more, something special, for the 2014 Green Bay Packers.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: