The Green Bay Packers emerged victorious for just the second time in the playoffs since they won Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season. The 26-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys earned the Packers a trip to Seattle to face the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game and a shot at another Super Bowl appearance. The two teams will face off next Sunday, January 18th in the first of the two games left to determine each conference’s champion.
This game certainly didn’t lack personality. Both the on-field action and the timelines on Twitter (yours truly’s included) certainly offered a lot in terms of what went on at Lambeau Field in front of a new record crowd of 79,000+. Props to that crowd for creating as much noise as they could and for participating in the #GetLoudLambeau campaign.
As I did a few times during the season, I’m posting another knee-jerk reaction piece as the Packers begin to look forward to their game against the Seahawks and the daunting task of getting a win at CenturyLink Field in Seattle for a chance to win it all. Let’s dive right in.
If Aaron Rodgers isn’t league MVP, he’s obviously the team’s – It was obvious early on today that Rodgers wasn’t going to have much mobility. At first, it didn’t appear that he’d have any. All he did, however, was throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He did lose a fumble. But the man hasn’t thrown an interception at Lambeau Field in over two calendar years. We talk about athletes having to use their smarts to make up for what time has taken away from their physical abilities. Rodgers still has plenty of both but he showed that he can adjust and be just as effective on one leg as a quarterback can be. Some throws sailed and the typical Rodgers-like accuracy wasn’t there early on but by game’s end, we saw the same methodical surgeon that we have come to expect from #12. That touchdown throw to Richard Rodgers was probably his best single throw this season, if you ask me. After the game, Rodgers said “I think I’ve got 120 minutes left in me” when asked about his injured calf and how it feels. The Packers are going to need every ounce of greatness Rodgers has in him to make it the full allotment.
The Packers needed guys to step up today, and they did – On the defensive side of the ball, Julius Peppers made his presence felt. I called for him to step up and be a factor this week, and he answered the bell. His biggest contribution likely saved this game. A few minutes into the third quarter, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray took a handoff and appeared to have a gaping hole to romp through when Peppers lunged in and knocked the ball loose. The Packers recovered and eventually went down and kicked a field goal. Another look at the play showed that Murray may have had a chance to run all the way in for a score had he not lost the ball. Mike Daniels came on late and Nick Perry had a big sack late. Offensively, receiver Davante Adams revived himself and had seven catches for over 100 yards, the biggest being a long catch and run for a touchdown. This was Adams’ best game since the win over the New England Patriots and came just in time to help save today and give the rookie wideout some momentum heading into Seattle. Adams not only caught seven balls, but broke tackles and used some incredibly nifty moves in the open field to tack on very valuable yards after the catch. Tight end Richard Rodgers must have seen me tweet “where is Richard Rodgers?” because just moments later, he caught a perfectly placed ball between two defenders for the go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Richard was instrumental in sealing with win over the Detroit Lions in week 17 and came up big with the touchdown grab today. If the Packers want to have anything resembling a chance in Seattle next week, they’ll need both Adams and Richard Rodgers to have another big day. Finally, tight end Andrew Quarless caught the game’s first touchdown on Green Bay’s opening drive and had four more catches and recovered Randall Cobb’s fumble on a kick return late in the game. Quarless had come on as a key contributor this season but disappeared a bit over the last month. Great to see him getting back into the swing.
Tackling may overtake special teams as the villain before all is said and done – It’s probably safe to say that most everyone is thinking about the same play that I am after reading that sentence. Halfway through the second quarter, Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams caught a short pass and juked Packers cornerback Tramon Williams out of his shoes. The problem was, there was no one else close enough to catch Williams before he was in the end zone to give Dallas a 14-7 lead. In the previous paragraph, I talked about guys needing to step up. In 2010 during the playoff run, Williams was one of the key guys who played at another level and propelled this team to its championship. He needs to find that guy, or something close to it and very soon. Murray broke a few tackles as well as a few other Cowboys ball carriers and it led to costly yards after contact. In the postseason, inches mean everything. If a defender can get his hands on a guy, he should bring him down. Failure to tackle will absolutely decimate Green Bay’s day in Seattle. They’ll be facing guys like Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson, who aren’t the easiest to corral. With offenses more spread out, it’s tough to get a swarm of defenders to the ball, but that has to be the mentality against the Seahawks.
Eddie Lacy will be needed for four quarters next week – Despite missing a big chunk in the middle of this game due to asthma, Lacy still had over 100 yards rushing and averaged over five yards per carry. As he has most of the last part of this season, Lacy came out of the gate strong and had several long runs. Anytime the Packers can get that type of production in the run game, it’s utopia. On that first drive, Lacy got the ball six times in a row and picked up nearly half of his day’s total. As the game wore on, Dallas chose to take Lacy away and force Rodgers to make plays to win. Seattle will surely do the same but that’s a defense of a completely different color. The Packers have to get four quarters out of Lacy in both the run and passing game. No back gets a ton of yards on every carry, but Lacy has to be productive if the Packers are to have any chance of competing in this next game.
The Packers offensive line is pretty damn good – Rodgers was sacked just once all day and I’d even put that one mostly on him as he had time to throw, he just couldn’t get outside the pocket to throw it away. The Green Bay offensive line has more than held up their end of the bargain this season and they’re keeping the pocket as clean as can be. For a quarterback who isn’t moving around very well, that’s a must. Center Corey Linsley had a bad snap that led to a broken play in which Rodgers eventually lost the ball, but that was his only real blip on the day. Linsley has been the biggest contributor of all of the draft picks this season and has likely entrenched himself as the center of the future. Guard T.J. Lang got caught up in a scrum after a play early on that led to his being penalized. Not the smartest thing, but Lang wasn’t about to let his teammates get pushed around and was sending a message to the Cowboys that the Packers can get down and dirty too, if need be. Very few penalties on the line today. They’ll need to have the game of their lives in a very loud environment and against a very physical Seahawks defense.
Mike McCarthy, what else can I say? – When McCarthy threw the challenge flag following Dez Bryant’s apparent catch on fourth down late and with four minutes left, I immediately tweeted that it was dumb and was going to be a story line after the game. I was right about the last part, but my first mistake was miscalculating how many timeouts the Packers had left. I thought they were down to their last and had McCarthy lost the challenge, he would have left his team with none. The Packers actually had two, so they at least would have had one left. The second mistake was my not understanding the NFL’s rule (I didn’t write it, so don’t direct your vitriol at me) on what a “catch” is. McCarthy challenged that Bryant didn’t complete the catch and that it should be ruled an incomplete pass. At that point in the game, the Cowboys were down five and would have had first and goal from the one-yard line. Regardless of whether he was going to win or not, McCarthy had to throw that flag. Side note, I’m aware that the image above isn’t from today’s game, but you get the gist. The experts, TV crew and everyone else were split down the middle on whether or not the call would be overturned. It was and the Packers got the ball back. It was the first challenge that McCarthy won this season. It will be discussed at length, probably long after this season is over. The Packers and Cowboys will face each other next season so I’ll venture to say we’ll see a lot of that highlight during that week. Green Bay Press-Gazette writer Jeff Ash made note that the Bryant play happened at the one-yard line on the south side of Lambeau Field, the same area where Bart Starr snuck in for the game-winning score against Dallas in the Ice Bowl. While this game still wasn’t “Ice Bowl II”, that surely made for a nice anecdote, didn’t it?
On to Seattle – I would encourage Packers fans to hang onto their recording of this game, provided that they did record it, and enjoy what they saw today. I have said many times that I don’t like the match up between the Packers and Seahawks but I’ll save all that talk for another time. The biggest and immediate concern is the health of Rodgers and how well he’s able to recover from today and move around next week. We’ll have your coverage here at ALLGBP.com and I’m sure most every other media outlet will as well.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: