Quarterbacks under microscope as Packers battle Cowboys
Aaron Rodgers is the lava-hot quarterback who throws Hail Mary touchdown passes as easily as slant patterns and already owns a Super Bowl ring.
Dak Prescott is the ultra-cool customer, who seemingly isn’t bothered by any of the pressure that comes with being a NFL quarterback.
Prescott looks to guide Dallas to its first Super Bowl appearance in 21 years and that task begins Sunday when the Cowboys host Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers in an NFC divisional-round contest (4:40 p.m. ET, FOX).
Prescott was the steal of the NFL draft as a fourth-round selection and he quickly turned then-injured Tony Romo into an afterthought. Dallas went 13-3 and earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed behind Prescott and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards during the regular season.
“To me, it’s all about being prepared,” Prescott said. “In a way, you get nerves; nerves hit you. You’re not human if they don’t hit you. But there’s a difference between being nervous and having good nerves to go out there and play. But it’s been a while since I’ve truly been just nervous.”
The fourth-seeded Packers counter with Rodgers, the more-experienced gunslinger who carried Green Bay into the postseason after a sluggish 4-6 start. Rogers guided the Packers to six straight wins to conclude the regular season and then helped fuel last Sunday’s 38-13 thrashing of the New York Giants in the wild-card round.
Rodgers has been superb by firing 18 touchdowns passes without a single interception over the last seven contests. One of his four touchdown passes against the Giants was his third Hail Mary toss in a 13-month span.
“He’s been hot for about nine years,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s a great football player, always has been and he just plays the game at a really, really high level and we have a really, really healthy respect for him and what he does and how he makes everyone around him better.”
Oh yeah, that Super Bowl ring Rodgers owns? He won it in Dallas when the Packers knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers at AT&T Stadium in Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season.
“It’ll be my first game actually playing there since the Super Bowl,” Rodgers said. “It’ll be fun to get out there. It’s a beautiful stadium and I have a lot of really, really good memories from the field.”
Rodgers could be without his top target in Jordy Nelson, who is in jeopardy of missing the contest after suffering a rib injury in the game against the Giants. Nelson was the recipient of a helmet hit from New York safety Leon Hall that prompted an overnight stay in a Green Bay hospital.
Nelson won’t practice until Saturday at the earliest and head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t want to speculate on whether he could play against the Cowboys.
Nelson caught 97 passes for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season) and his absence would elevate now-healthy Randall Cobb (60 catches for 610 yards and four scores) into the role of lead receiver. Cobb caught three touchdown passes against the Giants while accumulating five receptions for 116 yards.
“I don’t know if there’s a position Randall hasn’t played for us,” McCarthy said. “At the end of the day, it’s about getting Randall the football because good things happen when you get him the football.”
Green Bay has scored 30 or more points in each of the past five games and the Cowboys certainly have the firepower to match that production.
Dallas moves the ball well on the ground with Elliott and through the air with Prescott, who passed for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns against four interceptions. The Cowboys had three players with 50 or more receptions — Cole Beasley (75 for 833), tight end Jason Witten (69 for 673) and wideout Dez Bryant (50 for 796).
Meanwhile, it has been the ability of Prescott to handle everything thrown at him that has stood out most.
“I think it’s probably part of his DNA,” Garrett said. “He’s a really poised, composed person, got a great perspective on life, great perspective on football. Focuses on what he needs to do to be his best. At every turn, that’s how he’s handled himself.”
Prescott guided Dallas to a 30-16 victory over the Packers on Oct. 16. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns. Elliott racked up 157 yards on 28 rushes.
“We just won the line of scrimmage,” Elliott said while reflecting on that game. “That’s what it came down to. We wore them down early in the game, and in the second half we started to see runs break open.”
The Green Bay defense could have cornerback Quinten Rollins (concussion) back on the field after he missed the wild-card contest. He was limited in practice Wednesday.
Dallas expects to have cornerback Morris Claiborne (groin) in the mix after he missed the past nine games. Defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence (back) and Tyrone Crawford (shoulder) and linebacker Justin Durant (elbow) are all expected to play.
Sunday’s contest marks the eighth time the Cowboys and Packers have met in the postseason. Dallas holds a 4-3 edge.