Packers report card: Rare home comeback win over Cowboys

For the first time since Week 2 in the third quarter, Green Bay actually trailed in a game played at Lambeau Field. It was a relatively uncommon comeback win for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Matt Ludtke/AP

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Handing out grades following the Green Bay Packers’ 26-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs:

Passing Offense: A-minus

Even on one healthy leg and with limited mobility, Aaron Rodgers came through for the Packers when they needed him most. Playing through the pain of a left calf injury that he had previously hurt in two different spots, Rodgers completed 24 of 35 passes for 316 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 125.4 passer rating.

Rodgers tried to stay in the pocket whenever possible. On a couple occasions, even as pressure closed in, Rodgers didn’t venture outside of the tackles. But two of his touchdown passes were on the move, including the game-winning score in which Rodgers moved to his left before firing a rocket to Richard Rodgers in the end zone that zipped right through two Dallas defenders.

He had a few un-Rodgers-like moments. In addition to not extending plays like he normally does, there were passes that sailed and one that was nearly intercepted. There was also an early snap from Corey Linsley that Rodgers gained possession of, but his inability to escape led to him being hit and fumbling the ball.

But, with a lot of pistol and shotgun formations, Green Bay took advantage of what Rodgers was able to do under the circumstances. It’d be difficult to imagine a quarterback giving a better performance with this type of injury than what Rodgers did Sunday.

Aside from Rodgers, there were other good performances in the passing game, too. The offensive line blocked well for him, which was an especially important challenge for the offense given Rodgers’ condition. Rodgers was only sacked once, that coming when Linsley got beat on a move by DeMarcus Lawrence.

Jordy Nelson didn’t have the type of game that made him a second-team All-Pro and a first-time Pro Bowl selection. He finished with two catches for 22 yards and dropped a well-thrown deep pass on third down that would have given the Packers a new set of downs. However, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams were outstanding.

Cobb’s first catch of the game picked up a first down on third-and-6. His final catch of the game sealed the win when grabbing a deflected pass on third-and-11. He finished with eight receptions for 116 yards and was so overcome with emotion in the final moments that he threw the ball 40 yards downfield and picked up a delay of game penalty.

Adams is apparently a big-game type of performer. He was great against New England in Week 13, went silent in the final month of the regular season, then put up seven catches for 117 yards and one touchdown in his playoff debut. Adams’ open-field move to get past Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox and turn a third-and-15 conversion into a 46-yard touchdown might have been the play of the game.

Related Content

Rushing Offense: B-plus

Green Bay set the tone on its first drive by feeding Eddie Lacy and having a lot of success doing it. With gains of 19, 10 and eight by Lacy in that opening series, it got the Packers near the goal line without Rodgers having to do a lot. John Kuhn missed a block on the first rush of the game, leading to Lacy being stuffed for a one-yard loss. After that, though, Kuhn led the way and showed why he is a first-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowl selection at the oft-overlooked fullback position.

Lacy’s asthma flared up soon after, sending James Starks into the game for Green Bay’s second drive, one that lasted 11 plays before Rodgers’ fumble. Starks didn’t have the success Lacy did, rushing for a total of 16 yards in the game on five carries.

When Lacy returned, he wasn’t quite the same. But amidst many short gains, Lacy had a 29-yard pickup that got the Packers into the red zone. Like on the opening series, that big run was opened up with a good block from Kuhn.

Lacy finished with 101 yards on 19 carries (5.3 average).

Rushing Defense: B

There are many moments in a close game like this that could have changed the tide in one direction or the other. Had Julius Peppers not reached his hand out and stripped DeMarco Murray on Dallas’ opening drive of the second half, the Cowboys would have had a huge gain. Murray had a ton of room in front of him and perhaps could have gone the distance for a 59-yard touchdown. Instead, Peppers forced the fumble and Green Bay took over with great field position. It was one of the most important plays of the game.

Murray was the NFL’s best running back in the regular season, winning the rushing title by 484 yards. Murray finishing this game with 123 yards on 25 carries (4.9 average) was a mix of good and bad for the Packers defense. Dallas dominated time of possession in the first half due to a steady diet of Murray on the ground.

Green Bay allowed two explosive runs to Murray, one for 26 yards and another for 30.

There were some good individual stops by the Packers’ defense against the run. Datone Jones had a good tackle on Murray at the line of scrimmage and A.J. Hawk had a run stuff on a first-down play. But Murray also broke free of Clay Matthews in the backfield and ran through Mike Pennel to pick up a first down.

Passing Defense: B

Having just mentioned moments that could have changed the entire game, the one that will forever be most talked about from Sunday was the catch/no-catch by Dez Bryant. Showing that sometimes even perfect coverage can be bested by a great individual effort from a wide receiver, Bryant went up over the top of Sam Shields and appeared to haul in a fourth-down pass from Tony Romo. The NFL’s rule on completing the process of the catch overturned the call, which changed what could have been the Cowboys’ go-ahead score with four minutes to go into Packers ball at the 32-yard line with the lead still intact.

Peppers wasn’t just big in the running game, he also had a strip-sack of Romo on the first drive. Mike Daniels won his battle upfront frequently, creating pressure by quickly pushing linemen backwards. That paid off in the box score late in the game, first when Daniels’ pressure was coupled with Nick Perry getting to Romo for a sack, and then on the next play when the two of them teamed up for a shared sack.

Tramon Williams had a rough game. He missed a tackle at the 30-yard line that allowed Terrence Williams to score a 38-yard touchdown. He also got his feet tangled with the receiver once and was called for defensive pass interference at the goal line. Williams had another pass interference penalty called on him, too.

Packers Mailbag

Brad Jones had a costly penalty, being called for defensive holding on an early third-down play. Rather than Dallas punting, it was an automatic first down, and the Cowboys went on to score a touchdown on that drive.

Romo only threw the ball 19 times but had a 143.6 passer rating. Bryant was held in check with three catches for 38 yards. Jason Witten showed why he’s so good as Romo’s security blanket across the middle with six catches for 71 yards.

Special Teams: B-plus

Datone Jones got his finger on a 50-yard missed field-goal attempt before halftime. A make there would have given Dallas a 17-7 lead, but the Packers took over at the 40-yard line and got a field goal of their own to make it 14-10 at halftime.

Green Bay went with a different look on its struggling field-goal protection unit. Andrew Quarless, who allowed a block in Week 17, was out. Josh Sitton went to left wing, while Bryan Bulaga went to right wing. It’s rare to see big offensive linemen in those two particular spots. But it worked for the Packers in this game. Mason Crosby connected on kicks from 40 and 30 yards out.

The Cowboys chose to not kick off directly to Green Bay, instead squibbing and finding ways to give Cobb and Micah Hyde different looks. The Packers haven’t been very good in the field-position game this season, so it was a bit odd to see Dallas go with that strategy.

In another potentially game-changing, Cobb fumbled a kickoff return after being hit by C.J. Spillman. Fortunately for Green Bay, Andrew Quarless came out of the scrum with the ball. The Cowboys already had the lead, 21-13, and would have had great field position to try to add to that lead with a recovery there. Brad Jones was also called for holding on that play.

Jayrone Elliott had a nice tackle in kickoff coverage, bringing down Dwayne Harris at the 18.

Overall: B-plus

The end result is ultimately what’s by far the most important aspect in any playoff game, and the Packers are still alive in the postseason. But it wasn’t a flawless, "A"-worthy performance by Green Bay. There might have been too many mistakes and poor moments to beat a team like the Seahawks in Seattle, and that’s where this victory leads the Packers next.

For the first time since Week 2 in the third quarter, Green Bay actually trailed in a game played at Lambeau Field. It was a relatively rare comeback win for Rodgers and the Packers, a quarterback and team that often thrives by taking early leads when at home.

Rodgers persevered through pain and limited mobility. Adams climbed over any possible rookie wall that stood in his way the past month. Cobb continued to shine. Lacy had more than 100 yards rushing. Peppers again came through with momentum-shifting, outcome-altering plays. 

Overall, it was a very well-played game by Green Bay.

Follow Paul Imig on Twitter