Preview: Packers eye more playoff memories at expense of Cowboys
Nearly a half-century has passed since the Green Bay Packers rallied to beat the Dallas Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field in one of the most memorable games in pro football history.
A little more than 47 years after the "Ice Bowl," two of the NFL’s most storied franchises meet in the playoffs at Lambeau for the first time since that historic contest Sunday in this NFC divisional-round matchup.
In a rematch of the 1966 NFL title game and played with kickoff temperature at minus-13 degrees and a minus-46 wind chill, Bart Starr scored on a 1-yard dive with 13 seconds left to give the Packers a 21-17 victory for the NFL championship Dec. 31, 1967.
Though temperatures are "only" expected to be in the low 20s on Sunday, comparisons to that 1967 contest are obvious. The Cowboys are even selling "Ice Bowl II" t-shirts on their official website.
"Guys like football and guys understand the history and tradition of the NFL and the Cowboys and Packers," said Dallas coach Jason Garrett, who was three months shy of his second birthday on New Year’s Eve 1967. "It’s an exciting game to be a part of."
While the Packers again have the home crowd and familiar elements in their favor, the Cowboys are confident the result will be different as they try for a fifth consecutive playoff victory over Green Bay. The teams are meeting in the postseason for the first time since the NFC championship game Jan. 14, 1996.
"It’s all mental," Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "We’ve got to be mentally tough, which we are. Green Bay has to deal with it, too. You can never get use to 11-degree weather. I don’t care who you are.
"(The "Ice Bowl" was a) legendary game and takes you back in history. Here it is, repeating itself again. And you’ve got a team that’s ready for it."
Averaging a league-best 34.4 points while going 8-0 on the road this season, the Cowboys have reason to believe they can prevail even though the 12-4 Packers averaged an NFL-high 39.8 points while winning all eight home games. It’s the first time in NFL playoff history a team that went 8-0 at home hosts one that was 8-0 on the road.
Green Bay has won the last three meetings, most recently 37-36 at Dallas on Dec. 15, 2013.
"(The Cowboys are) here for a reason," defensive back Micah Hyde told the Packers’ official website. "It’s going to be a huge game.
"We don’t pay attention to them being 8-0 on the road because they haven’t come here and beaten us here at Lambeau, but it’s going to be a tough matchup and we understand that."
The Packers will face a Cowboys team that appears built to win in cold weather, boasting a bruising running game led by DeMarco Murray, who rushed for an NFL-high 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns. Though Murray was held to 75 yards on 19 carries last Sunday, he scored in a 24-20 wild-card win over Detroit.
He recorded 134 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts in the last matchup with Green Bay.
"It starts with their running game," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "This is the best test we’ve had. This will be a challenge."
With an improved run defense, Green Bay might be up to the task.
After allowing 153.5 rushing yards per game in the first eight, the Packers moved pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews inside and yielded an average of 86.4 on the ground while winning seven of the final eight contests.
Capers, however, knows the Cowboys have more offensive options than Murray.
Tony Romo, who attended high school approximately 150 miles south of Lambeau in Burlington, Wisconsin, has thrown 14 TDs and one INT while posting a 129.4 passer rating in the last five contests, including last week.
Romo recorded a league-best 121.8 rating while throwing 20 TDs and two picks on the road this season.
"I think people appreciate Tony as having the skills that he has," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after Romo recorded his first come-from-behind playoff victory last Sunday to improve to 2-3 in the postseason.
"I hope (critics) see that he’s made some pretty impressive plays and had big games. The only thing that will ever get them off his back totally would be to get that Super Bowl win."
Romo, though, has completed 60.9 percent of his passes with a TD and an interception while being sacked eight times in losing both career postseason road games.
He’s 1-1 at Lambeau, last playing there in 2009.
Dez Bryant has 20 receptions and two TDs in two games against Green Bay. He had 153 receiving yards in last season’s meeting.
The Cowboys allowed 155 yards while falling behind 14-0 to the Lions last week, but held them to 242 the rest of the way. A good deal of controversy has surrounded Dallas’ advance to the second round, as the club was aided by a late pass interference call that was overturned – one of two controversial fourth-quarter calls that went in the Cowboys’ favor.
Dallas likely can’t afford to get behind early even though Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is nursing a calf injury that forced him to leave for a time in a 30-20 win over Detroit in the regular-season finale.
Rodgers, the MVP candidate who threw for 4,381 yards with 38 TDs and five interceptions, said he’s ready to go. He’s led the Packers to a 75-14 first-quarter scoring margin over the past eight games.
"No, I’m going Sunday," Rodgers said. "Just a matter of how."
Rodgers returned to practice Thursday, and coach Mike McCarthy said his mobility "looked good."
Rodgers is 5-4 as a playoff starter and 1-2 while throwing for 715 yards, four TDs and one interception at Lambeau. He passed for 177 yards with a TD and was sacked four times in last season’s 23-20 wild-card home loss to San Francisco.
He’s thrown four touchdowns and no picks while winning his last two against the Cowboys, both at home, but was injured for last season’s meeting and hasn’t faced them since 2010.
Eddie Lacy, who ran for 1,139 yards and nine TDs, had 141 with a score on 21 carries at Dallas last season.
Jordy Nelson set career highs with 98 receptions and 1,519 yards in 2014 but hasn’t recorded more than five or 61 yards in any of his four games against the Cowboys.