Rodgers, Packers headed to NFC championship after thriller with Cowboys

Rodgers, Packers headed to NFC championship after thriller with Cowboys


ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook on third-and-20 with 12 seconds left - confirmed on review - wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay (12-6) two years ago.

Cook, who led Green Bay with 104 yards receiving, kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:33 - two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game - all on the road.

"Unbelievable effort. I mean, what a game, what a game," said Rodgers, who threw for 356 yards with two touchdowns. "We're going to celebrate this and move on to Atlanta. We're just going to enjoy this right now."

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season. The Packers were the previous road team to win - over Washington in last season's wild-card round.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, top-seeded Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott, whose 11-game winning streak during the regular season sent Tony Romo to the bench when he was ready to return from a back injury, rallied the Cowboys in a way that probably made Dallas' 10-year starter proud.

The fourth-round pick, who was supposed to be the No. 3 quarterback before injuries changed everything, got Dallas' rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey.

Prescott threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, and Elliott had 125 yards rushing.

Rodgers didn't seem to miss receiver Jordy Nelson, out with a rib injury sustained in the win over the Giants.

Rodgers found six different receivers, including a 34-yard touchdown to Richard Rodgers that was his longest since catching one of three successful Hail Mary passes from Aaron Rodgers in the past 13 months.


The Cowboys had a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that doesn't happen often. Dallas had a first down wiped out by the penalty against receiver Brice Butler, who wasn't even part of the play. And that was actually the issue.

Referee Tony Corrente threw the flag immediately after the snap. After Terrance Williams made a catch the referee announced that Butler was penalized for going into the offensive huddle and then leaving the field.

There was even more confusion when the penalty was initially marked off only 5 yards. After Packers coach Mike McCarthy pointed it out, Corrente announced the correction and the ball was moved back another 10 yards. The Cowboys punted soon after.


Packers: At Atlanta in the NFC championship game next Sunday.

The NFL changed the definition of the 'catch rule' again and it won't be the last time


The NFL changed the definition of the 'catch rule' again and it won't be the last time

I’m going to miss “surviving the ground.” I’m going to miss “completing the process,” too. But I won’t miss the way the NFL rules committee likes to use words to refine officials’ training. That, fortunately, will never end.

After all, I believe the NFL has been marching boldly toward creating a sport that the people who are paid to play it and pay to watch it do not understand, and that’s a level of chaos I can enjoy because if we know anything at all about the NFL, it is that it has three levels of problem-solving.

#1 -- Denying that a problem exists, and calling people who say it does know-nothings, morons and potentially liable in a lawsuit.

#2 -- Admitting a problem exists only after years of careful study in which it starts with the desired result and then tailors any fact-finding to reach that result.

#3 -- Implementing a solution that solves nothing, and in doing so either makes the original problem worse or replaces it with a more vexing problem.

In fact, vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said that very thing in explaining the plan to the Washington Post’s Mark Maske. “We worked backward,” he said. “We looked at plays and said: Do you want that to be a catch? And then we applied that to the rule. Slight movement of the ball, it looks like we’ll reverse that. Going to the ground, it looks like that’s going to be eliminated. And we’ll go back to the old replay standard of reverse the call on the field only when it’s indisputable.”

Of course, Vincent was also required to explain why “surviving the ground” and “completing the process” made sense when those were introduced, so let’s move past all that to the real issue here.

Football is essentially ungovernable, and becoming more so with each additional year. Part of it is the dichotomy between making a violent game less violent without making it sufficiently less violent. Part of it is large, fast people being asked to play at full speed to strike smaller targets. Part of it is taking simple common sense as a judgment tool away from officials because at its heart, the decision-makers hate its officials and give them increasingly absurd things to adjudicate on the fly and then punish them when it can’t be done.

And part of it is old football coaches being asked to tailor their sport to meet the entertainment demands of a younger demographic that isn’t sitting still for a convoluted game that lasts three hours. This is another way of saying that football is slowly but surely being viewed by the younger generation as “your dad’s game,” and are going to basketball or e-sports or even no sports at all for their fun.

In other words, the league is trying to change a rule to address a rule that was introduced to change a rule to take judgment from people who are supposed to apply structure to a game that already had plenty of it.

So the catch rule will be changed yet again, and in two years the complaints about that rule will overwhelm the league again. We will go from "surviving the ground" to "mastering the air space" or someone equally nonsensical verbiage, and the idea of simplifying a rule book that is beating the game it explains across our skulls is simply beyond these guys.

Ex-49er Daniel Kilgore describes 'crazy,' 'frustrating,' 'heart-breaking' week


Ex-49er Daniel Kilgore describes 'crazy,' 'frustrating,' 'heart-breaking' week

Daniel Kilgore’s mind was at ease on Feb. 14 after signing a three-year contract extension to remain with the 49ers – the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.

But all that changed on the first day of the open negotiating period when he learned the 49ers reached an agreement with New York Giants free-agent Weston Richburg on a five-year contract. The same firm, Rep1, represents Kilgore and Richburg.

“Originally, I knew Weston was on the Niners’ board for left guard,” Kilgore said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “When I knew that he was going to sign with the 49ers, I was thinking, ‘Hey, we just got a new left guard.’ I hate it for Laken (Tomlinson).

“But, then, you kind of find out he was coming for center. That’s when I was thrown for a loop.”

Kilgore described the days that followed as “crazy,” “frustrating” and “heart-breaking.”

One day after the 49ers officially signed Richburg to a five-year, $47.5 million contract, Kilgore was traded to the Miami Dolphins. The 49ers got little in return for delivering Kilgore to what appears to be a good situation. The team’s swapped draft spots in the seventh round, with the 49ers now choosing at No. 223 overall, while the Dolphins pick at No. 227.

Kilgore lands in a situation to be a starter. He also received, in essence, a 13.3-percent raise for leaving California to go to Florida, where there is no state income tax. The 49ers structured Kilgore's contract so the first payout of a $2.3 million roster bonus was scheduled for after the start of the new league year – after the trade. The Dolphins pick up the entirety of the three-year, $11.75 million contract the 49ers negotiated with Kilgore.

Kilgore said he was never asked to compete for a job at guard with the 49ers. He said he did not request a trade, either. He was told, in essence, he was no longer in the 49ers’ plans.

General manager John Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area last week both Richburg and Kilgore are best at center. To ask either to submit to a change of position would set up one of them for failure.

Looking back, Kilgore said he wonders if he should have turned down the 49ers’ offer and gone into free agency. But that approach had its risks, too. All he wanted, he said, was to be compensated fairly and remain with the 49ers.

“I was really thrown for a shock,” said Kilgore, who won the Bobb McKittrick Award last season for his displays of courage, intensity and sacrifice. “You just wonder, ‘What If I did go free agency?’ (But) that wasn’t me. I knew where that team was going. I’m familiar with the area, familiar with the coaching staff, my best friends are on the team. So I knew this is where I wanted to be. I didn’t see myself going anywhere else.”

Now, he will be moving to South Florida, where he will attempt to establish what he felt he had with the 49ers.

“You want to be there and be a part of something on the rise," Kilgore said. "That was the frustrating thing, that you’re no longer going to be there. It’s frustrating and heart-breaking, but you move on. I’m going to South Florida, and that makes things a heck of a lot better.”

Kilgore said he had some hard conversations with Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan last week. Ultimately, he said he respects both men for the way they handled an awkward situation. Lynch said last week when the 49ers signed Kilgore to an extension, the club believed there was a likelihood Richburg would not still be available a month later as a free agent. Richburg was the only center the 49ers would have sought to replace Kilgore, Lynch said.

“I hope the fans out there know the truth about everything and know that Kyle and John did it in the best interest of me and the best interest for the team moving forward,” Kilgore said. “There’s no bad grudges or anything like that. We’re all still friends at the end of the day.”