The Dallas Cowboys scored with 1:13 remaining to take a 31–28 lead on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and it was then that I knew they would lose. Yes, technically the Cowboys had a better chance of winning with a three-point lead than they had a few seconds earlier with a four-point deficit. But they left Aaron Rodgers 73 seconds to score; 62 seconds later, he threw the game-winning touchdown to Davante Adams:
Packers-Cowboys is reliably one of the most watched games of the NFL season, and for good reason. Last year’s NFC playoff matchup was a 34–31 thriller that featured three scores in the final two minutes, capped by Rodgers improvising one of the most important plays of the season. The teams played an amazing game in the 2014 playoffs, too, a 26–21 Packers win — although that’s memorable for a different reason. Sunday’s contest was just as brilliant, a 35–31 game that delivered two go-ahead touchdowns in the final two minutes. I’d like the Packers to play the Cowboys every week; the NFL would like the Packers to play the Cowboys every week. Basically everybody besides Cowboys fans would like the Packers to play the Cowboys every week.
Sometimes it seems like Rodgers is all alone, and that never seemed so apparent than in the closing seconds on Sunday. The Packers had given up 31 points and more than 400 yards of offense to the Cowboys, which is why Rodgers needed to chase a score in the closing minutes in the first place. Green Bay was short three points in part because kicker Mason Crosby missed two extra points for the first time in his career, and the Packers’ attempt to make up for those misses with a two-point conversion that failed. On the final drive, 32 yards from the end zone, Green Bay ran a draw play to Aaron Jones, the rookie running back drafted in the fifth round and forced into action following Ty Montgomery’s injury in Week 4. That play went nowhere, forcing the Packers to burn their final timeout with 29 seconds to go. The bad run had brought up third down, which meant the Packers would have been unable to spike the ball to stop the clock and bring the field goal unit onto the field if Rodgers failed to get a first down. Facing third-and-8, the snap from center Corey Linsley was low, forcing Rodgers out of rhythm, and the pocket almost collapsed, leaving Rodgers at risk of taking a sack that could have taken Crosby out of field goal range.
Rodgers had been beset by just about everybody: Green Bay’s holey defense, its shoddy offensive line, the previous play call by his maddeningly uncreative coaching staff, even his typically reliable kicker.
So he did the thing himself, dodging the Cowboys defensive line and scrambling 18 yards downfield, getting out of bounds to stop the clock with 21 seconds remaining:
Rodgers twice targeted Adams in the end zone. The first attempt didn’t work, but he tried again.
Yes, it often seems like Rodgers is all alone. But as a neutral observer, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Few players in league history have been more excellent than Rodgers when desperate, from Hail Mary after Hail Mary to Sunday’s gutty run and pinpoint throw. Sometimes, he has to seem like he’s on a team all by himself to remind us that he’s in a league of his own.