ARLINGTON, Texas – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 37-36 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, a victory that saw the Packers overcome a 23-point halftime deficit to tie biggest comeback in franchise history, matching the 23-0 halftime hole the 1982 team overcame against the Los Angeles Rams:
Thumbs up: On a defense that has been devoid of playmakers for most of the season, cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields delivered. While Williams’ first apparent interception, which likely would have led to the Packers taking the lead much earlier, was wiped out when referee Walt Coleman overturned it after replay review, Shields made up for it with a phenomenal pick on the ensuing Cowboys series, setting up Eddie Lacy’s 1-yard go-ahead touchdown. Then Williams, on a play almost identical to his earlier non-pick, came off his man (Miles Austin) and made a diving interception of Tony Romo’s pass for Cole Beasley, who stopped his route to allow for Williams to make the play. This time, Williams needed replay to get the INT, as side judge Rick Patterson ruled the pass incomplete initially.
“We came into halftime (down) 26-3, and most guys would have packed it in. ‘OK guys, it’s not our season, let’s just go home and get ready for next year.’ Not that vibe here. Not that vibe here,” Williams said. “The offense went out and scored right away. That was big. That’s a confidence booster. We knew those guys can do that, and they did it. We knew we needed to make stops then, and we kept making stops. We saw things going our way, and it was, ‘OK, we’re here. We’re going to keep fighting, keep punching.’ And eventually, we kicked the door down.”
But perhaps the biggest moment came after Williams made the play and it appeared Coleman’s crew wasn’t going to review the play. Packers coach Mike McCarthy went to line judge Rusty Baynes and an NFL replay liaison and appeared to ask if the play would be reviewed. When he didn’t get the answer he was looking for, McCarthy called timeout. Although Coleman would later tell the crowd that he had been buzzed by the replay booth before McCarthy called his timeout, it didn’t appear that way on the FOX Sports broadcast, as Coleman went to the vibrating beeper on his belt as the Cowboys were snapping the ball.
“They were trying to (run a play), no doubt about it,” Williams said. “The referee was calling for the ball, and I refused to give it to him. He might’ve asked me four, five times, and I didn’t give him the ball. Then I saw Mike running up the sideline and I knew they were going to try to do something at that point, and I finally threw him the ball. And we got the timeout called.”
Thumbs down: While Cowboys coach Jason Garrett didn’t hesitate to tell reporters that the interception to Shields was the result of Romo changing a run play to a pass, he and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan have some ‘splaining to do after inexplicably abandoning the run. Running back DeMarco Murray finished with 18 carries for 134 yards, but he carried just seven times in the second half. Even though Murray gained 41 yards on those sparse second-half carries, and even though the Cowboys had the lead until Lacy’s TD with 1:31 to play, Murray had only three carries for 24 yards in the fourth quarter.
“The whole game, [the Packers] played their safeties down [in] what we call a single-high defense, with extra guys in the box. That’s why we were able to throw the ball so well and do some things with motion,” said Garrett, whose offense put up 332 first-half yards, a Cowboys franchise record for most yards in a first half. “We wanted to keep running it and maintaining an aggressive mentality throughout the ballgame, and we wanted to mix run and pass. We’ll go back and evaluate and see how well we did that.”
Player of the game: What a year it has been for Matt Flynn. Perhaps Green Bay is simply where he belongs. After four years as Aaron Rodgers’ backup and a year of disappointment as a high-priced backup in Seattle, he was traded to Oakland in April, cut by the Raiders in October, signed and then cut by the Buffalo Bills and finally re-signed by the Packers on Nov. 12. Since then, he’s led three remarkable comebacks – from down 16 in the fourth quarter for a 26-26 tie with Minnesota; from down 21-10 at the half in last week’s 22-21 victory over Atlanta; and Sunday’s epic rally.
“I can’t say enough about Matt Flynn,” McCarthy said. “Matt just stays the course. If you know Matt, his disposition, he’s a tough guy, a gym-rat-type professional athlete. He’s going to make plays. He’s not going to take a bunch of chances. I think it said a lot about him during the second quarter, just the way things went for him, to come out and just to stay the course for the third and fourth quarter. Great game for Matt Flynn.”
Flynn, who threw a second-quarter interception and admitted to not going through his progressions quickly enough in the first half, let loose after halftime. His numbers in the second half (16 for 22, 182 yards, four TDs, 136.7 rating) were indicative of his incredible turnaround.
“I just felt – I don’t know – I felt like I was seeing things better, felt like I was in more of a rhythm. When that happens, for whatever reason, the ball comes off your hand better,” said Flynn, a Texas native who had 11 family members and friends at the game. “I just said, ‘Don’t play safe. Don’t try to go out there … just play like you’re in practice. Read the defense, play football and have fun.’
“Every time you play games, every time you get reps, you get more comfortable with the game of football. You hear it all the time that things start slowing down, you start seeing things a lot better. I kind of felt like that last week. Then the first half, it all just kind of went out the window. I have to look inside myself and see what caused that because we can’t let something like that happen again.”
Play of the day: There were many to choose from, but the comeback started with Lacy’s 60-yard run on the opening play of the second half. The Packers lined up with Lacy behind tight end Andrew Quarless and fullback John Kuhn, who were split behind Flynn. Flynn appeared to make an adjustment at the line on the run call – Kuhn could be seen tapping the side of his helmet just before the snap – and Lacy took the handoff and exploded off the left edge. Lacy ran past defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Kyle Wilber, who rushed upfield, while Kuhn took out safety Barry Church, who had crept toward the line of scrimmage pre-snap before bailing out. Right guard T.J. Lang also pulled to create a seal, and Lacy was off and running on his longest sprint of the season.
“Huge,” McCarthy said. “We dug ourselves in a big hole. For us to come out and crease it, the run-blocking unit did a heck of a job for us to come out to crease that defense and for Eddie to come out of the gate, I think it gave you some insight into what was going to happen.”
Inside the game: Garrett claimed after the game that the Cowboys allowed Lacy to score the go-ahead 1-yard touchdown with 1:31 to play, wanting to get the ball back with enough time to drive for a game-winning field goal. Well, if that’s the case, one has to wonder if the Cowboys would have had a chance of stopping Lacy had they been trying, given the personnel grouping the Packers used. Essentially, Lacy had nine blockers on the play, and two of them normally play on the other side of the ball.
Lacy lined up behind Flynn with two tight ends on the line of scrimmage – Ryan Taylor next to left tackle David Bakhtiari and Andrew Quarless next to right tackle Don Barclay – and defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels lined up in the backfield. Lacy wound up diving up the middle and not following either one of them.
“We haven’t been working on that long,” center Evan Dietrich-Smith said.
According to Raji, the play was actually installed this week.
“It’s funny, it was just this week that we were in defensive meetings and one of our coaches came in and got me and Mike out,” Raji said. “We went [to the offensive] walk through, and they kind of explained it to us. It was like a five-minute thing. At that particular time, it came up and myself and Mike and the offensive line, everybody did their job and Lacy wasn’t going to be denied on that.”
Asked what his assignment was, Raji, who lined up as a fullback in 2010 and adopted the nickname “The Freezer,” replied, “I was to line up 2 yards behind TJ and as soon as the ball’s snapped, I was supposed to hit right off his right hip, and just try to clear that hole – anybody I see, just try to move them and push them back.”
Quote, unquote: “Wow.” – The first word out of Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s mouth to open his postgame press conference.
Injury report: Defensive end Johnny Jolly suffered a shoulder injury and did not return. Tight end Brandon Bostick suffered a foot injury and did not return. Inside linebacker Brad Jones, who came in with an ankle injury, left briefly to have his ankle retaped but returned.
Meanwhile, McCarthy had no update on Rodgers, who was displeased when he was ruled out of the game on Friday. Rodgers has not played since fracturing his left collarbone Nov. 4 against Chicago.
“I really don’t have [any] updates on Aaron Rodgers. I had a long conversation Friday when we announced that on Friday. Nothing’s really changed,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to do what’s in the best interest of Aaron Rodgers.”
> With Chicago’s victory at Cleveland, the Packers (7-6-1) are a half-game back of the NFC North-leading Bears (8-6), with the Detroit Lions (7-6) set to play on Monday Night Football against Baltimore at Ford Field in Detroit. The Packers need the Lions to lose at least once in their final three games – assuming the Packers win their last two – to win the division and reach the playoffs. The Packers close the regular season at Chicago on Dec. 29 after they face the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“This comes down to Pittsburgh. It’s the fourth quarter of the season. We have to beat Pittsburgh. We really can’t worry (about) what’s going on around us,” McCarthy said. “We can’t control it. This is the position we’re in. We get to play at home in seven days. I just want our guys to get healthy and we’ve got to pour everything into beating the Steelers.”
> Quarless continues to deliver. A week after catching the go-ahead touchdown to beat the Falcons and setting single-game highs in the process, he had the exact same numbers – six receptions, 66 yards, one TD – Sunday.
“I’m very proud of Andrew Quarless. He’s thanking me for the opportunity,” McCarthy said. “That’s the kind of young man that he is. He knows that he’s had some opportunities early in the year that he didn’t take full advantage of. He’s been big the last two weeks and we need him. We need him. I’m very proud of him. … He’s been big for us.”
> While Lacy’s 60-yard run ignited the comeback, that drive ended with wide receiver Jordy Nelson going up and over cornerback Orlando Scandrick to reel in a 13-yard TD pass from Flynn. It was one of those catches where you wonder how the guy caught it.
“I have no idea. I don’t,” Nelson said. “Matt gave me a shot. We keep telling him and Aaron all the time, ‘Sometimes you have to throw it up and see what happens.’ And Matt did. We were at a huge disadvantage with the way they played the play. (Scandrick) was outside leverage and I have to run a corner route. It was tough. That’s why you run every route to win, because you never know when it’s coming to you.”
> Kicker Mason Crosby just keeps on truckin’. A week after nailing a 54-yarder on Thanksgiving in Detroit, a 57-yarder at the New York Giants on Nov. 17, Crosby drilled a 57-yarder Sunday for the Packers’ first points. While he knew as soon as the ball left his foot that the kick was good, holder Tim Masthay wasn’t so sure.
“Tim gave me a hard time, I hit it, and it was one of those where when I felt it come off my foot, I knew I had hit it smooth and gotten the distance,” Crosby said. “It’s a long kick, and I gave Tim a (high) five and he kind of had to make sure it goes through. So he kind of watched it. I was happy to be able to hit that early in the game.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.