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Aaron Rodgers Improvised the Most Important Pass of the Year

The Packers QB played schoolyard ball and changed the NFL season

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The last five minutes of Packers-Cowboys were packed with plays that seemed like they’d define the season. Ezekiel Elliott pulled a spin move that fooled Clay Matthews so badly that State Farm is hard at work scrubbing Matthews from all advertisements he’s appeared in over the past few years. Dak Prescott bashed his body into some Packers en route to a game-tying two-point conversion. There were three 50-plus-yard lead-changing field goals. I know we typically don’t associate field goals with excitement, but let me tell you: These were the most exciting field goals of all time. I don’t know what the Packers’ Mason Crosby does when he kicks a football, but each of his go-ahead field goals started out looking like they were going to miss and knuckled back between the uprights.

But then, with 12 seconds left, Aaron Rodgers and Jared Cook combined for this play.

1. Rodgers didn’t even look like he was throwing that hard. He was rolling out to his left — which isn’t the direction you want to roll if you’re a right-handed quarterback — and when I watched the play live, I assumed he was just casually tossing the ball to somebody 10 to 15 yards away on the sideline to get the Packers into the range where he could throw a Hail Mary. (He’s good at throwing Hail Marys.) Instead, the ball had enough zip to go 35 yards and enough touch to go over the head of Byron Jones, the Cowboys safety in coverage.

2. Jared Cook caught the ball like this:

It’s not just the toe drag — it’s that he kept his knees off the ground for an extra split second to ensure no part of him would be out of bounds before he had possession. It was more than sideline awareness; it was Cook’s ability to figure out how to torque his body in a critical moment.

3. THIS WAS NOT AN ACTUAL PLAY.

Cameras showed Rodgers using his hands to describe routes to his teammates rather than just telling them the play’s name:

Rodgers threw the ball like a casual backyard toss, and it turns out he drew it up that way as well. That he made a throw that precise and powerful with what looked like a light flip is ridiculous. That Cook had the presence of mind and body to catch that ball while remaining in the field of play is miraculous. That Rodgers drew up this play just defies all football sense. It was just a hunch.

Rodgers repeatedly does things that don’t seem replicable. Time and time again, he runs around aimlessly, unleashes a deep throw into a small window, and succeeds. This time, he did it on what could turn out be the play of the year.