Almost every Green Bay Packers game of late involves some very difficult choices that come up near the end of the first half or the end of the game.
Case in point from this past week. There’s 1:33 left in the game, the Dallas Cowboys begin at their 25, trailing by three. They immediately begin marching, with the Green Bay defense gassed and reeling. Twenty-four yards to Terrance Williams, then 11 yards to Jason Witten, and Dallas has a first down at the Green Bay 40 with one minute to go. Dak Prescott quickly lines up the team and, at the 49-second mark… spikes the ball, stopping the clock, but using up a down. Two passes follow, one for seven yards and one incomplete thanks to Nick Perry’s knockdown.
Dallas, at the 33-yard line, is within field goal range. There are still 44 seconds left, and Dallas still has a timeout available – but due to the ball spike, it’s 4th down. The tying field goal is good. Yes, Dallas coach Jason Garrett took some heat for this drive following the game.
Bad clock management, wouldn’t you say? They wound up with only two chances, not three, to keep moving toward a winning touchdown. One alternative would have been to use the timeout instead of the spike. However, I would have taken my time, even an extra 10 seconds if needed, to run a promising play on first down. They were already in field goal range, they had the timeout left, and 44 seconds is a lot of time – as the Packers would prove.
Worst of all, the Cowboys’decisions left Aaron Rodgers with 35 seconds to counterattack.
The Game-Winning “Play”
How did Green Bay respond to its own severe time management challenge?
From the 25, Aaron Rodgers throws twice, completing one for 17 yards. With the clock running, disaster strikes, and Rodgers is sacked by an unblocked Jeff Heath for a 10-yard loss. Green Bay uses its second timeout, then an incomplete pass to Jared Cook leaves them at their own 32 with 12 seconds and one timeout left.
We now know that, despite all the plays on coach Mike McCarthy’s play sheet, what emerged was not a planned or practiced play. But an idea that Aaron Rodgers contrived on the spot. He didn’t call a set play – he told his teammates what to do.
Somehow, here’s what Rodgers computed in those few hectic seconds between plays: got to pick the right receiver; got to get to about the Dallas 30; got to do it in under 12 seconds; got to evade the rush for eight to ten seconds (to give receiver time to get downfield and open); got to be sure that once the catch is made, the receiver either gets out of bounds fast or immediately take a knee so we can scream for a time out; and finally, got to get the receiver open even though the Dallas D knows any pass short of about 35 yards means no score.
The play Rodgers described in the huddle: Cook, you’re the one, line up on the right, I’ll spin out of the pocket to my left, you cross the field on a long slant, you other receivers clear out the left sideline, Cook you need to reach the sideline at about the Dallas 30, I’ll dance around until you get there, you keep inbounds, catch the ball cleanly, and get out of bounds pronto.
The result: Cook leaves his defender Byron Jones in his wake as he runs a slant about 65 yards across and down the field, then a moment before linebacker Justin Durant finally gets around blocker Lane Taylor and reaches him, Rodgers, on the run, throws a perfect pass, utterly undefendable, which Cook secures a split second before sliding out of bounds, stopping the clock at three seconds left, for a 36-yard completion. Dallas then unsuccessfully used its leftover timeout to try to ice kicker Mason Crosby.
With the clock expired, the 51-yard field goal passes through the uprights and wins the game. Amazing!