Kicked Out of Playoffs: Cowboys Fall to Packers on Game-Winning Field Goal as Time Expires
James D. Smith via AP
Two hours after one of the most exciting games in Cowboys’ history ended in a heartbreaking 34-31 loss to the Packers, the dynamic rookie duo of Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott were hanging with friends/family on the AT&T Stadium playing field at the 30 yard line. Stadium workers were dismantling the goal post in the back of the end zone.
Hundreds of fans that, like Dak & Zeke, were sheltering inside the stadium due to tornado warnings, began chanting “We are proud…We are proud…We are proud.”
About 10 or 15 minutes later, Zeke (wearing a 22 Emmitt Smith throwback hoodie) and Dak headed up the tunnel, the weather clearing a bit and fans/media/workers started trickling out to the parking lot to navigate their way home through the remaining rain storms.
It’s the last time we’ll see Dak & Zeke on the field for another 9 months. If not for a slow start against the Packers on Sunday afternoon in the Divisional Round playoff game, we might have seen them this coming Sunday hosting the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
But the Cowboys, as Zeke told media during the postgame locker room period, dug themselves into too big a hole in the first half because of self-inflicted wounds, mainly penalties. Midway through the 2nd quarter, the Cowboys trailed 21-3. They would claw and fight back to tie the game 31-31 with :35 remaining in the 4th quarter on a 52 yard field goal by Dan Bailey (the longest playoff kick in team history).
Unfortunately, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers got the ball one last time. And Rodgers worked his magic just as he did at the start of the game, dissecting the Cowboys defense and making one terrific throw after another.
For a brief moment it looked as though the Cowboys defense would get a stop in the closing moments and the frenetic frenzy of the Cowboys’ rally would send the game to overtime. Blitzing safety Jeff Heath sacked Rodgers at the Packers’ 32 yard line with :18 left to play. On the next play, safety Byron Jones knocked away a pass intended to tight end Jared Cook. Only :12 seconds remained and the Packers faced 3rd and 20.
And that’s when Rodgers made the throw of the game. Escaping containment on a 3-man rush, Rodgers was moving left out of the pocket and fired the ball 36 yards towards the left sideline. Cook made an amazing catch, going to his knees at the sideline but keeping his feet inbounds, and hauling in the pass with :03 remaining at the Cowboys’ 32 yard line.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby, who has never missed a field goal in postseason, trotted onto the field and kicked the 51-yard game-winner. Actually, he had to kick it twice because Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett called a timeout just before his first attempt sailed through the uprights. It was merely a warm up for his second attempt which just wedged inside the left upright. But it was good and the Cowboys season came to a crashing halt.
The jubilant Packers stormed the field, congratulating Crosby, a Texas native from Georgetown. The Packers earned the right to advance to the NFC Championship Game against the #2 Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, many Cowboys players crumbled to the ground in disappointment. As some walked to the center of the field to shake hands with their opponents, others remained on the bench in stunned disbelief.
It had been a tremendous effort, rallying from the 18 points deficit.
Dak Prescott, as he’s done all year, showed great resilience in leading the rally. He connected with Dez Bryant on two touchdown passes. Overall, it was Dez’s career best postseason performance. He finished with a game-high 9 catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns. The first Dak-to-Dez scoring connection was a 40-yarder in the 2nd quarter to make the score 21-10. The second touchdown was a 7-yarder with 4:08 left in the 4th quarter to tie the game at 28-28.
Dak also connected with Jason Witten on a 4th quarter touchdown pass, a 6-yarder with 11:39 to play. It was Witten’s first postseason touchdown catch and it came in his eighth postseason game.
The Witten touchdown was set up by an interception by safety Jeff Heath late in the 3rd quarter. It was the Cowboys’ lone takeaway of the day. Heath appeared to have a second interception late in the 4th quarter with the game tied at 28, but it was negated by a pass interference penalty on cornerback Anthony Brown who was defending Ty Montgomery.
By the way, the referee incorrectly announced to the crowd that the penalty was on #42 (safety Barry Church). He identified the wrong player. The penalty was actually on Brown. The crowd booed lustily, no matter whose number was announced. It’s a penalty that will be discussed by fans for quite a while because it put the ball in field goal range for Crosby who kicked a 56-yard field goal to give the Packers a 31-28 lead with 1:33 to play.
Dak and the offense responded with their own scoring drive. Dak hit Terrance Williams for 24 yards across the middle. In a hurry up offense, Dak hit Witten for 11 yards. Then Dak spiked the ball to stop the clock and preserve a timeout with :49 left.
The decision to spike the ball and give up a down will be questioned. On second down, Dak hit Cole Beasley for 7 yards. But a 3rd down slant to Dez was knocked down at the line of scrimmage by linebacker Nick Perry. The Cowboys had to settle for a field goal attempt.
Dan Bailey, always money in clutch situations, split the uprights on a 52 yard field goal to tie the game 31-31. But :35 seconds remained on the clock. And that dude, Aaron Rodgers, got the ball one last time.
There are so many accolades thrown Rodgers way, and all are well-deserved. He is special, truly one of the greats in the game. He slices and dices defenses as he did in the Packers’ first three drives of the game.
Rodgers is like a Benihana chef with those really sharp knives. He carves everything up with astonishing acumen. Geez, he’s fun to watch…unless you’re rooting for his opponent or trying to defend him. The 36 yard pass to Cook on the sideline was an all-timer. And Rodgers was running to his left when he made that throw.
“There ain’t no way in hell he’s supposed to make a play like that,” Barry Church said after the game.
Well, he’s Aaron Rodgers and he did. And we’ll all be watching him and QB Matt Ryan of the Falcons battle on Sunday for the right to play in Super Bowl LI in Houston in February.
Ron Jenkins via AP
It’s too soon to talk about the Cowboys future, bright as it may be. Right now I sense that most fans are still a bit numb following the frenetic ending to what is already being called “a classic”.
Well, here’s the thing. They are “classics” when your team wins. If you’re on the losing side, they’re just “heartbreakers”.
The Cowboys won 13 games in a memorable 2016 regular season, but they’re one-and-done in the playoffs. As Dak told reporters after the game, “Thirteen wins don’t mean anything if you don’t make it to the championship; you wash those down the drain and start fresh next year.”
Next year…I hate those two words because it means this year ended on a down note. It was a heck of a fun ride, but now I’m still feeling a bit like the person who got off the roller coaster and feels a bit queasy. It was a thrill ride of a season, and a harbinger of great things to come in the future. But now I’m just a little sick. Yes, the future is bright. But we have to wait 9 months until the next meaningful game.