The Green Bay Packers tied a franchise record by overcoming a 23-point halftime deficit to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 37-36. The win kept their playoff hopes alive. The Packers also overcame a 23-point deficit in Week 1 of the 1982 season against the Los Angeles Rams.
Backup quarterback Matt Flynn threw for 299 yards and four touchdown passes to lead the comeback win while running back Eddie Lacy dashed for 141 yards and a touchdown to go over the 1,000-yard mark during his rookie campaign.
The victory improved the Packers record to 7-6-1 on the season and kept their playoff hopes alive while they awaited the return of injured starter Aaron Rodgers who was out with an injured collarbone.
“It took me everything not to cry,” an emotional Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters after the game. “I’m just drained. Just the sheer emotion. It was incredible.”
The first half was all Dallas with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to tight end Jason Witten, a one-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray and four field goals by Dan Bailey. The Packers managed only a 57-yard field goal by Mason Crosby and trailed at the break, 26-3.
“Most guys would pack it in – ‘Guys, it’s not our season. Let’s go home and get ready for next year’”, said Packers cornerback Tramon Williams. “It’s not that vibe here.”
The Packers admitted they didn’t play well in the first half. “I played pretty poorly in the first half,” Flynn said. “I wasn’t really getting a rhythm and I was kind of having a little difficulty seeing the field. In that first half, I was still sticking on the first one or two guys too long, waiting for them to get open.”
But the tables turned quickly in the second half. On the Packers first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Lacy broke off a 60-yard run that woke up the offense and got the Packers to the Dallas 20. Three plays later, Flynn found Jordy Nelson for a 13-yard touchdown pass and the Packers pulled to within 26-10. Nelson reached over the defender and made an acrobatic catch for the touchdown.
“That first drive of the second half, we busted a big run,” Flynn said. “We take a lot of pride in our running game here. For us to get that big run, we all kind of felt momentum and then we got a touchdown a couple plays later.”
The Cowboys answered with an 11-play, 48-yard drive that led to a 50-yard field goal by Bailey, his fifth of the game. The fact that the Packers defense was able to hold Dallas to field goals so often gave the team a chance to come back.
The Packers answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive of their own and pulled to within 12 points when Flynn found tight end Andrew Quarless on a three-yard touchdown pass. Flynn found Quarless for 22 yards on the drive, Nelson for 21 and Jarrett Boykin for 14 and 13 yards. The score was now 29-17 Dallas as the fourth quarter got under way.
The Packers forced a three-and-out on the next drive, which ended with a shared sack by Clay Matthews and Datone Jones. Micah Hyde returned the punt for 26 yards to give the Packers the ball at the Dallas 22. Five plays later, Flynn connected with running back James Starks on an 11-yard touchdown pass. The Packers were within a field goal.
Romo led the Cowboys on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that took 4:52 off the clock and gave Dallas a 36-24 lead on a five-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant.
But Flynn and the Packers scored again, the fourth straight drive that ended in a touchdown, this time on a three-yard pass from Flynn to James Jones. There was just 4:17 left in the game and the Packers trailed 36-31.
The Packers managed to get the ball back with 2:46 left in the game when Sam Shields intercepted Romo and gave the Packers the ball at midfield. After an 18-yard pass to Quarless, the Packers ran the ball with Lacy five times with a pass interference penalty mixed in. The final run by Lacy was a one-yard touchdown with gave the Packers their first and only lead of the game, 37-36 with 1:34 remaining. The two point conversion failed when Flynn couldn’t connect with Quarless in the end zone.
Dallas had one more chance and only needed a field goal to win but on the second play from scrimmage, Tramon Williams intercepted Romo to clinch the win for the Packers. The play was initially ruled incomplete but replays showed the ball never touched the ground and the Packers were able to run out the clock and win the game.
“Usually I wouldn’t make the play, I’d make the tackle,” Williams explained. “I came off my guy a little quick. Kind of overthrew the out route a little bit. I was in the vicinity and I was like, ‘I can get to this ball.’ Just dove and I caught it. I never was more sure about a catch all season long. I caught that, rolled over, kept it off the ground.”
The Packers almost couldn’t believe they pulled off the comeback. “As we were taking a knee, we were thinking ‘Is this real? Is this happening?’ Yeah, it’s probably the biggest win of my career,” Flynn told reporters. I don’t anticipate being the guy going forward. We all anticipate Aaron getting healthy.”
“I haven’t felt this way in a long time. I feel like we won the Super Bowl,” linebacker Clay Mathews said. “I know it might be premature in saying it. I feel like I was in college again, the way we were celebrating on the sideline. With all the adversity we’ve been through, the injuries, just everything, for us to come down here and get this victory, in the fashion that we did, it really speaks volumes for this team and hopefully where we’re headed.”
Safety Morgan Burnett summed it up best. “You just have to keep fighting, take it one play at a time, keep scratching, fighting, finding a way to come back. “You can’t hold your head down. You’ve got to have that warrior mentality. Dividing and pointing fingers is not going to help so we stuck together. Everyone had a positive attitude, and we had a positive outcome.”
Rodgers returned to action two weeks later and led the Packers to a last minute win over the Bears to clinch the NFC North Division title. That would never have happened without this incredible, record-tying comeback in Dallas.
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