|Mason Crosby, photo by Evan Siegle, Packers.com|
Well, I predicted (with trepidation) that the Packers would beat the Cowboys, and when they were ahead 21-3 and then 28-13, I was feeling pretty good about my pick, and more importantly, about the game. There were so many "wow" moments in the game, and so much has already been written about them. The TD to Rodgers on a free play. Dallas area native Ty Montgomery living a dream and scoring two TDs in the Cowboys' stadium. The Cobb toe tap sideline catch (announced by the crew as Rodgers "throws it away"). The even more spectacular Cook sideline catch. The decision to go for a 56 yard Mason Crosby field goal, when a miss would have given the Cowboys great field position to win the game. The 51 yard Mason Crosby field goal to win the game, as time expired, with the obligatory time out to ice the kicker. Remember when Mason Crosby was a problem a few years ago? Not any more.
The one I want to highlight, though, is a couple of plays before the Cook miraculous sideline catch. Rodgers sustained a blindside sack at the Packers' 31 yard line. If he had fumbled, as you would expect he would on a sack like that, the Cowboys would probably have recovered the ball right there, in perfect position to kick the game winning field goal themselves. I really don't know how Rodgers avoided the fumble, but by doing so he saved the game.
Now obviously it was a little disheartening to let the Cowboys close the score to an 8 point margin before halftime, and it was a lot disheartening, if not heartbreaking, to let the Cowboys tie the game at 28 and then again at 31 in the fourth quarter. We Packers fans have some history with blown leads in the playoffs, and it seems (without adding up each instance over the years) that it doesn't usually end well. Just two comments: at least the blown leads this time did not result from a "prevent defense" or "kill the clock offense." That would drive me crazy. Instead, if you rewatch the game, the blown leads really happened "organically" in the course of the game, meaning the Cowboys adjusted their offense to rely more on the passing game, and the Packers made some errors here and there (like the Christine Michael error on the kickoff he bobbled, or Rodgers' interception) that contributed to the blown lead by changing around the field position game. But here, for a change, the Packers were the ones to pull off the last second victory after blowing the lead, rather than the other way around.
There are two obvious Packers-Falcons games to think about in evaluating the Packers' chances on Sunday. In the 2010 playoffs, when the Falcons were the number one seed, the Packers blew the doors off the dome, winning 48-21. I can't put much stock in that game. It was 6 years ago, and there has been much turnover on both teams since then. Besides, that was at a time when the Packers not only had a healthy offense, but also a healthy defense, sporting such defensive backs as Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Nick Collins, and Charlie Peprah. If Aaron Rodgers was the no. 1 star of that game, then Tramon Williams was no. 2, with his two interceptions, including the 70 yard interception for a touchdown on the final play of the half.
So what, then, about the game against the Falcons, at the dome, earlier this year, which the Falcons won, 33-32? This was the first of four losses in a row for the Packers, ending up with the "run the table" moment when the Packers had fallen to 4-6. There were 7 lead changes in the game, and the Packers had the lead at some point during each of the 4 quarters. At the end, the Falcons scored the final points on a touchdown pass to Sanu, and in this case 31 seconds left was not enough time for Rodgers to get the offense downfield for a possible winning field goal. So the Packers of 2016 can certainly play with the Falcons, and don't have any reason to fear going into the Georgia Dome.
But in re-watching that October 30 game, the most amazing thing to me is the Packers' inactive list: Randall Cobb, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, James Starks, Clay Matthews, Ty Montgomery, and Jared Cook. Could the presence of some of those players on the active roster make a difference on Sunday? You bet it could. I assume Jordy Nelson will be out, but I assume Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison will be able to play, as will Randall Cobb and Jared Cook and Ty Montgomery. That should take care of the offensive side of the ball. On defense, the defensive backfield is a bit of a mess, but Damarious Randall will play, and Morgan Burnett may be able to play. I assume Quinten Rollins won't be able to play, because as far as I know, he is still in concussion protocol.
I think the Packers will win this game, by a fairly close score, and advance to Super Bowl LI.