Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay
GREEN BAY – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Call it “Revenge of the Hail Mary” by Captain Hail Mary.
Aaron Rodgers, who shocked the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals with end-of-game Hail Mary touchdown passes last season, stunned the New York Giants with a 42-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Randall Cobb on the final play of the first half of Sunday’s NFC Wild Card playoff game at Lambeau Field. That play propelled the Packers to a 38-13 victory and a date at top-seeded Dallas in the divisional round next Sunday.
In the 2011 season, the Packers went 15-1 in the regular season but were routed 37-20 by the Giants in a divisional game at Lambeau. On the final play of the first half of that Jan. 15, 2012 game, Eli Manning connected with Hakeem Nicks for a 37-yard Hail Mary touchdown to give the Giants a 20-10 lead.
This time, Rodgers rolled out to his right and uncorked a high pass into the end zone. Cobb was behind four Giants defenders and the ball dropped over their hands and into the waiting mitts of Cobb on the final play of the half.
The Packers, outplayed for most of the half, ran into the locker room with a 14-6 lead.
“A lot,” Rodgers said the momentum swing. “It was kind of like that game we had five years ago.”
Cobb, who missed the past two games with an injured ankle, added two touchdowns in the second half — tying an NFL playoff record with three touchdown receptions — and Rodgers destroyed a Giants defense with three All-Pros in the secondary for 362 yards and four touchdowns.
Rodgers led the Packers (11-6) to their seventh consecutive win. During that span, he has thrown 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
“He’s playing tremendous football,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He has spoiled all of us around here for a long time.”
The Giants (11-6) were down, but they weren’t out after the Hail Mary, thanks in part to a controversial decision by Packers coach Mike McCarthy early in the third quarter.
Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Packers’ 42-yard line, McCarthy kept the offense on the field, and the Giants stuffed running back Ty Montgomery for a loss. One play later, the Giants were in the end zone when Manning found Tavarres King for a 41-yard touchdown pass that reduced the Packers’ lead to 14-13.
The Packers, however, answered. Having moved the ball to midfield, Rodgers went after Giants slot cornerback Trevin Wade, who was in the game for injured veteran standout Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
First, it was a 20-yard gain over the middle to Davante Adams. Then it was a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Cobb to put Green Bay in front 21-13.
“Very important,” McCarthy said. “As a play-caller, as a head coach, you’re sick to yourself. You feel totally responsible for the decision and the execution of the play and so forth, and then give up the play on the second down. But there’s still a lot of football left.”
And the Packers dominated the rest of those 20 minutes.
On the ensuing kickoff, New York’s Bobby Rainey fielded the ball at the sideline but couldn’t keep his balance, stepping out of bounds at the 3. The Packers forced a punt and took advantage of great field position to tack on a 32-yard field goal by Mason Crosby.
The Giants needed an answer but couldn’t get it, with Odell Beckham unable to hold onto a third-down pass in which he was wide open for what would have been a big gain.
The Packers put the game away on the ensuing possession. On third-and-3, Rodgers had all day against a three-man rush before Cobb broke away from cornerback Eli Apple in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown reception to make it 31-13 with 9:19 remaining.
Manning threw for 299 yards, but Beckham, just like the Week 5 loss to the Packers at Lambeau, was a nonfactor. A week after his controversial trip to Miami following a win at Washington in the regular-season finale, Beckham caught four passes for 28 yards while being targeted 11 times. He called it “typical” for critics to link the Miami trip to his poor performance.
“At the end of the day, I went through practice, had zero drops, zero missed assignments. There was nothing that could connect seven days ago to today and how we played and executed,” he said. “There’s just nothing in the world. That’s not realistic. I think it did a great job. It created distractions for us. It’s unfortunate and that’s just the way this world is.
“There’s just no way you could connect something that happened seven days ago to this game today and how we came out and played, and how the Packers have won seven in a row and how they scored 38 points and how they executed and came up with the third downs. They did what they needed to do. The connection is just not there, in my opinion. But everybody’s going to have their own opinion.”