ARLINGTON, Tex. — Aaron Rodgers didn’t end another Dallas Cowboys season. Not quite. That remains a wait-and-see proposition. But he did inflict some considerable harm upon it.
Nearly nine months after he knocked the Cowboys from the NFC playoffs with some late-game quarterbacking magic, Rodgers returned to AT&T Stadium and did it again in a regular season affair. His touchdown pass to wide receiver Davante Adams with 11 seconds remaining gave the Green Bay Packers a 35-31 triumph and put another dent into what was supposed to be a very different 2017 season for the Cowboys.
“Our identity is that when we have to have it, there’s zero excuses,” Rodgers said. “That’s just the case. We needed another drive there to tie the game and send it to overtime or beat them, and we put it together.”
Rodgers and Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said they weren’t thinking about the NFC semifinal from January when the Cowboys grabbed a 31-28 lead Sunday with 1:13 to play, then Rodgers and the Green Bay offense took the field 75 yards from the end zone after a touchback on the ensuing kickoff. If so, they were about the only ones.
“Not really,” Rodgers said. “That was a great memory, but [it’s a] different situation. A tie game is different than when you need a field goal to tie, a touchdown to win. Your mind-set’s a lot different. In those situations, I just focus on my breathing to try and calm myself and remind the guys about some little things. … The genius and the beauty in those situations is the moment isn’t as big as you think it is. It comes down to little things executed perfectly.”
In January, the Cowboys rolled into the playoffs as the NFC’s top seed, only to have their season brought to an abrupt and bitterly disappointing end when Rodgers ran to his left, zipped a pass to tight end Jared Cook and, with that bit of football wizardry for a 36-yard gain on a third-and-20 play, set up kicker Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired. The Packers won, 34-31, and advanced to the NFC title game.
The Cowboys were supposed to push that setback aside this season and, in Year 2 in the NFL for quarterback Dak Prescott and tailback Ezekiel Elliott, take the next step from contender to Super Bowl team. The early returns have not been all that promising. The Cowboys take a record of 2-3 into their bye week. They are two games behind the first-place Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, and they could lose Elliott at any moment if a federal appeals court grants the NFL’s request to lift the injunction that is keeping Elliott’s six-game suspension on hold.
So while the Cowboys insisted this wasn’t about being done in again by Rodgers, they did acknowledge that they have some regrouping to do.
“It’s just an opponent,” tight end Jason Witten said as the Cowboys’ locker room emptied. “Really, you take the emotion out from that standpoint. He’s a heck of a football player, and he has been for a long time. Really, our motive was just to try to get to 3-2 going into the bye. And we didn’t make enough plays. Give them credit. They did. So we’re 2-3 going into the bye. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll stay together. This is a close team. There’s a lot of football left and certainly a lot that we’ve got to clean up.”
This was another terrific game, although with the stakes not nearly as high as the one in January. Prescott threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, an 11-yard option-play keeper that set up Rodgers’s final drive. Elliott was bottled up for much of the game but found some running room late and rushed for 116 yards.
The Cowboys raced to a 21-6 advantage in the second quarter. The Packers overcame two missed extra points by Crosby to move in front 22-21 in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys got a field goal but surrendered a touchdown on a tipped-ball interception thrown by Prescott, who responded with his late touchdown run. But that left time on the clock for Rodgers.
“Aaron Rodgers in the two-minute drill, I just don’t know what else to say about him,” McCarthy said. “I’ve got to expand my vocabulary.”
Rodgers had one timeout at his disposal and said he was thinking touchdown, not field goal, the entire time. He began with 14-yard completions to Adams and to tight end Martellus Bennett. Rookie tailback Aaron Jones contributed a 15-yard run as part of a 125-yard rushing performance. Rodgers scrambled for 18 yards to set up first an incompletion to Adams in the end zone, then the touchdown on essentially the same play.
“With his eyes, he just said, ‘Just throw a better ball,’ ” Rodgers said. “So I just switched the formation up a little bit. … I just put a better throw on him. He made a great catch.”
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