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Jared Cook finally played up to Aaron Rodgers' level when the Packers needed him most

Jared Cook’s incredible game-saving catch capped off the best game of the year from the Packers’ pass catchers.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys The Post-Crescent-USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas — Aaron Rodgers hurled it and watched, lurking on his toes. Jared Cook caught it inches from the sideline, a ballet on his toes.

Receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb had just helped clear the area.

"I looked back and watched the catch, saw it all," Cobb said. "I knew it was good."

Brandon Carr ran with Cobb.

"I had to go with him," the Dallas cornerback said. "I had a feeling something was going on behind us."

This was going on — Rodgers, the Packers quarterback, finding Cook, the Packers tight end, on a third-and-20 pass of 36 yards to the Dallas 32-yard line. The play began with 12 seconds left. It ended with 3 seconds left. And in the final ticks, Packers kicker Mason Crosby nailed a 51-yard field goal.

Packers win.

Cowboys traumatized.

Packers with a toe-tapping, mind-blowing 34-31 victory that vaults them into the NFC Championship game on next Sunday at the Atlanta Falcons. Cowboys with a noble comeback from a 4-12 season a year ago and a 28-13 deficit in this game that ended flat before 93,396 fans here on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

Cook’s catch was the zenith.

But the prelude was the Packers’ array of pass catchers all game long snaring balls left and right, high and low, in traffic, on third downs and wrecking the Cowboys.

Aaron Rodgers was brilliant.

But the Packers catching his passes were as radiant.

* * *

Cook caught six for 104 yards. Cobb caught seven for 62 yards. Receivers Adams (five for 76) and Geronimo Allison (three for 46), running back Ty Montgomery (six for 34) and tight end Richard Rodgers (one for 34) caught the rest of Aaron Rodgers 28 completions.

The only drop all game was Richard Rodgers’ flub on a pass to the right that started the fourth-quarter, field-goal drive that gave Green Bay its 31-28 lead. Dallas had tied the game 28-28 with 4:08 left, Green Bay surged ahead 31-28 with 1:33 left, Dallas tied it again, 31-31 with :35 seconds left — and that set up Rodgers on his toes to Cook on his toes, a pass and catch of fresh playoff lore.

Every Packer that caught a pass played the game as if they knew receiver Jordy Nelson’s rib injury and absence must be supplanted. Each was a hero of this game, a group that played as if their hands were soaked with glue with a collective determination and confidence that was hypnotic.

"I just think they all came in with the mindset that they were going to play for four quarters, not so much worrying about me," Nelson said as he left the Packers locker room afterward, adding when asked if he can return for the NFC Championship game, "We’ll see."

Packers secondary coach Darren Perry saw it differently: "I don’t think there’s any question that they raised their game to make up for Jordy. But you’ve got to remember, just like our team, those guys are battle-tested."

They were all inspired by the pregame speech of guard T.J. Lang.

"He (Lang) told us about playing for 60 minutes, and he was right," Green Bay safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. "I mean, he had guys in tears before this game. It was that powerful a message. And I think everybody that caught a pass from Aaron clearly got the message. They really put on a show out there. And you’ve got to remember this: There is always extra incentive and fire among them because when you play with No. 12 (Rodgers), you have to catch the ball, or you’ll be gone."

* * *

Call it fear or call it focus, call it whatever you want, but these Packers pass catchers displayed a talent and mettle that was the signature of this game.

Cook crowned it.

"I ran across the field from right to left," Cook said. "It was more of a jog than a sprint. I had to read the coverage. It was a zone, so, I had to find the right, open spot. I let some of their defenders run through the area. The key was to take my time. And then Aaron put it right where it had to be."

Rodgers appreciated guard Lane Taylor blocking for him wide just before the pass, a play where Rodgers spun in the pocket and sprinted left.

"It was great to see so many guys make plays out there," Rodgers said. "Those guys (his receivers) did some great things."

They helped sink Dallas, the NFC’s No. 1 seed, a 13-3 team that planned on much more. They helped set it all up for Crosby, a 10-year kicker with a powerful leg, accuracy, and guts. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy called Dallas an "outstanding team," before adding that "frankly, we felt we were a better football team." He called Rodgers’ pass, Cook’s catch and Crosby’s kick "a pretty big insight" into who the Packers are as a football team.

"It’s challenging," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "When you’re in playoff football and you lose, you’re done. It’s a tremendous investment. It’s a physical investment. It’s a mental investment. Not only is it an investment in goals, but it’s an investment in each other. I thought that was on display today."

A more callous analysis came from Dallas safety Barry Church: "Thirteen wins don’t mean a thing if you don’t make it to the championship."

Church and all of the Cowboys regretted allowing Rodgers and his receivers to build a 21-3 lead with 7:37 left before halftime. That is where the game was lost, they said. Actually, it was lost through four quarters of Rodgers tossing arrow-like passes to Packers who kept catching them flying through the air.

Or, in the final instance, on the tips of toes.

"They all raised their level to that of Aaron," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "Aaron does have that kind of effect on the group around him. It rubs off. They get to thinking and playing like him. They believe."