Much will be said, written and just about everything else, about the Green Bay Packers’ 26-25 NCF Divisional-Playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday in front of a raucous sellout crowd on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
Most of the attention will no-doubt go, not to the victors, but to a controversial call — or rule — depending on how you look at it, on a breathtaking, highlight-reel catch then no-catch by Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant on a fourth-down throw by long maligned Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.
Romo, by chance, is an appropriate place to start when we get to the heart of what the lingering legacy of the game dubbed “The Ice Bowl II” should actually be.
The Cowboys’ 11th-year man out of Eastern Illinois has put up Pro-Bowl numbers for the better part of his career under center for Dallas, but it’s what Romo hasn’t done that’s had fans and media questioning the signal-caller for most of that time. Until this season it was Romo’s inability to take Big-D to the playoffs. After getting that monkey off his back this season, Romo and the Cowboys took it a step further last weekend with a 24-20 win over Detroit in the Wildcard round.
Romo was good Sunday as well. The hobbled quarterback went 15-of-19 passing for 191 yards and two touchdowns as Dallas leaned heavily on workhorse running back Demarco Murray against the Packers defense and the 24-degree game-time temperature. He was an inch, maybe even a second-opinion away from another good chunk of yards and most likely another game winning drive if the Bryant pass would have gone Dallas’ way.
But it didn’t. More importantly, on this day, Romo wasn’t Aaron Rodgers.
The same Aaron Rodgers who leads all active NFL quarterbacks in career passer rating, while posting the league’s top mark in the statistic in two of the last three full seasons he’s played — Romo’s 113.2 nipped Rodgers’ 112.2 this season. Rodgers’ 122.5 rating in 2011 is the greatest of all time. He’s the California kid who coolly goes about tearing up opposing defenses as one new name after another creeps into the discussion of just who is the best quarterback in the NFL.
He’s been so good that despite winning an MVP, a Super Bowl, and making stars out of receivers like Greg Jennings — now with Minnesota — and Jordy Nelson, Rodgers has had relatively little opportunity for late-game heroics. Though ranking 4th in quarterback wins since 2008, the first year he took over full-time for Brett Favre, ranks No. 34 behind such names as Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel in fourth-quarter comebacks.
That changed Sunday, even after it was questionable that Rodgers would even play until the middle of the week after aggravating a left-calf strain following a run in with Detroit defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh’s foot in the final week of the regular season.
From the 1:12 mark of the third quarter through the end of the game Rodgers was perfect. He went 10-of-10 for 162 yards passing and the two most important touchdowns since at least that 2011 Super Bowl run.
It started with a 3rd-and-15 strike from near midfield, over the middle to rookie Davante Adams, who changed direction before outracing Dallas defenders to the pylon to draw the Packers to within one heading into the fourth quarter.
After a Cowboys three-and-out Rodgers went to work again.
The one-legged quarterback escaped a sack before shoveling a pass to Andrew Quarless for 13 yards to the Green Bay 33-yard line. After a two-yard run by receiver Randall Cobb, who was lined up as a running back, it was back to Adams on the left side. The rookie broke a tackle, streaking up the sideline 18 yards into Dallas territory. Rodgers found Randall Cobb on back-to-back snaps to move it to the Dallas 27-yard-line. He dumped a quick out and then a shovel-pass off to Quarless for six and eight yards respectively to the Dallas 13-yard line.
On first and ten, Rodgers, whose way of keeping his hands in his removable pocket until just the last moment before the snap leaves the impression of a man unfazed, almost nonchalant about the gravity of the moment, called out the signals, took a shot-gun snap with the pocket quickly collapsing around him, looked left … nothing, thing right … nothing, before and escaping back and to the left. On a regular day Rodgers, a capable runner, would have likely taken off, but on this day the quarterback pulled up from just inside the 20-yard line and fired a laser between Cowboys’ defenders Sterling Moore and J.J Wilcox, just as they converged on Richard Rodgers who’d been streaking along the backside of the end zone.
It was a play — and a pass — worthy of being shown from all angles, and it was, though perhaps not as many as Bryant’s effort on the catch that wasn’t just moments earlier.
Rodgers connected with four different receivers — none of them leading receiver Nelson, who was hounded by the Dallas secondary for 22 yards on two receptions — for a total of eight-straight completions and two touchdowns to over come an eight-point deficit. He would complete two more passes to seal the win on Green Bay’s ensuing drive.
Folks will talk about the Rodgers’ day for years to come, especially in Green Bay.
In a season that’s heard so much about the potential of another Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady matchup in the AFC Championship game, has been enamored with Romo’s first visit to the playoffs since 2009, Rodgers’ touchdown pass is the play that could ultimately lead him and the Packers to a second Super Bowl title in five seasons, and back to the forefront of discussions about the greatest quarterback in the most publicized generation of quarterbacks in NFL history.
With the defending-champion Seahawks and Russell Wilson waiting in Seattle next week, and either Brady or Andrew Luck in a potential Super Bowl, that conversation might just get a whole lot clearer.