The Cowboys were the NFC’s top seed after finishing the regular season 13-3, and Green Bay was the NFC’s hottest team as the regular season drew to a close. There was plenty of hype surrounding this matchup, and the game — especially the final two minutes — exceeded expectations.
Dallas had rallied from an 18-point deficit in the second quarter to tie the game at 28 with just over four minutes remaining. This, of course, gave Aaron Rodgers plenty of time to get the Packers back on the board in time to secure a win.
Green Bay responded with an eight-play drive that took 2:35 seconds off the clock. The Packers were aided along by a pass interference call immediately after the two-minute warning, which overturned a Dallas interception that could have changed the course of the rest of the game.
Questionable pass interference call with 2:00 remaining
Rodgers was throwing deep to Ty Montgomery, and Cowboys defensive back Anthony Brown does make contact.
The problem with the call was that it looked like it should have been a holding call, not pass interference. Because refs called pass interference, the Packers got the ball on the Dallas 35-yard line.
Official Tony Corrente explained after the game why the Cowboys were hit with a pass interference penalty as opposed to holding.
“The ball was in the air,” Corrente said, via Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram. “Once the ball is in the air, and he grabbed him, which normally would be a defensive holding, now becomes a pass interference. It prevented him from continuing down to make a play on the ball.”
Green Bay takes a lead on a field goal with 1:38 remaining
The penalty and field position set Mason Crosby up to nail a 56-yard field goal to give the Packers a three-point advantage.
Crosby didn’t have the best track record with potential game-tying or winning field goals heading into this matchup against the Cowboys.
Mason Crosby is 0-of-4 in his career on potential game-tying or go-ahead FG from 50+ yards in the 4th/OT entering this kick— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 16, 2017
After that attempt, Crosby was 1 of 5.
The Cowboys take over with 1:33 remaining
Trailing 31-28, Dak Prescott was undaunted. His first play after Green Bay took back the lead was a 24-yard bomb to Terrance Williams. The next play, an 11-yard completion to Jason Witten, also got the Cowboys a first down. Then, for some reason, Prescott spiked the ball to stop the clock.
Then stop the clock with 49 seconds left
The Cowboys still had a timeout, and there were 49 seconds left on the clock. Ideally, Dallas would have wanted to get some points on the board and leave Aaron Rodgers as little time to work with as possible. It made the decision to sacrifice a down to stop the clock inexplicable.
A 7-yard Prescott pass to Cole Beasley got the Cowboys to the Green Bay 33-yard line, and on third-and-3, Dallas opted to pass the ball instead of handing it off to Ezekiel Elliott. In that situation, and given the skill of the Dallas offensive line and Elliott’s MVP-like performance this season, Elliott seems like the safer bet to get into the end zone or convert a first down.
The short pass intended for Dez Bryant was batted down at the line of scrimmage by Packers linebacker Nick Perry, and out came Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey to attempt a 52-yard field goal. Bailey put it right through the uprights, and Dallas was once again level with Green Bay on the scoreboard.
The Cowboys left Rodgers 35 seconds to score
Jeff Heath came at Rodgers on a safety blitz, sacking him for a 10-yard loss. An incomplete pass on second down gave Green Bay a third-and-20 with just 18 seconds left to play. Things were looking a little better for the Cowboys, and then Packers tight end Jared Cook made the catch of the game.
Rodgers is under pressure and on the run, and hits Cook downfield for 36 yards and a first down in field goal range for Crosby.
Crosby hits a game-winner with three seconds on the clock
Crosby’s first attempt of 51 yards was good — except it didn’t count because the Cowboys took a timeout to try to ice him. It only served to heighten the drama. On Crosby’s second attempt, the one that counted, the ball looked like it was going to veer wide left, but it curved back to sneak just barely through the uprights.
* * *
Prescott, Bryant, and Elliott all turned in impressive performances for the Cowboys. Prescott finished the game 24 of 38 for 302 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Bryant had 132 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and Elliott ran for 125 yards on 22 carries.
Rodgers was otherworldly once again, throwing for 356 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He did that with his top target, Jordy Nelson, sidelined by injury and without much support from the run game.
After the Packers started the season 4-6, Rodgers expressed confidence in the team’s ability to turn things around.
"I feel like we can run the table,” Rodgers said two months ago. “I really do.”
Green Bay has won eight straight since, and in those thrilling final two minutes against the Cowboys, the heart of Rodgers’ statement had never been truer.