The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys have produced many memorable playoff games dating back to 1966, but the Packers 26-21 win over the Cowboys in the 2014 playoffs was full of drama and controversy. Aaron Rodgers threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Pack to victory. The controversy was about an alleged catch by Dallas receiver Dez Bryant that was overturned on replay. Cowboys fans have never forgotten the play. The win sent the Packers to the NFC Championship Game. Here is a look back at the Packers controversial playoff win over the Cowboys.
The Buildup to the Packers Controversial Win Over the Cowboys
The Packers finished the season 12-4 and won the NFC Central. They accomplished this despite Rodgers playing through a calf injury that limited his mobility late in the season. Rodgers won his second NFL MVP award, throwing for 4,381 yards and 38 touchdowns. Green Bay led the league in points scored and were considered Super Bowl contenders.
The Cowboys also finished 12-4 on the season and were the third seed in the NFC compared to the second-seeded Packers. They won their final four contests and six of their last seven to win the NFC East. Dallas defeated the Lions in the Wild Card round, 24-10.
A Back and Forth First Half Leading Up to the Packers Controversial Win
The Packers scored on their first drive of the game, going 60 yards on 10 plays. Head coach Mike McCarthy surprised everyone by giving the ball to running back Eddie Lacy on seven of those plays and the big back gained 45 yards on the drive. Rodgers threw to tight end Andrew Quarless for a four-yard touchdown strike to give the Pack a 7-0 lead.
The Cowboys wasted little time in responding. Tony Romo led them on a lengthy, 12-play ,62-yard drive that took 7:25 off the clock. Twice Packers penalties gave Dallas key first downs. The drive ended when Romo found Tyler Clutts for a one-yard touchdown pass and the game was tied 7-7 with 1:09 left in the opening quarter.
Dallas took the lead midway through the second quarter on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Terrance Williams. Williams broke a tackle attempt by Tramon Williams and beat Micah Hyde to the end zone. That made it 14-7 Cowboys.
“That play hurt us,” Hyde said. “That was just bad tackling, bad pursuit. It was an overall bad play, and we can’t let that happen.”
The Packers shifted the momentum of the game late in the second quarter. Datone Jones of the Packers blocked a 50-yard field goal attempt by Dan Bailey with just 34 seconds left before the half. The Packers took over at their own 40 with 29 seconds remaining. Rodgers found Randall Cobb for gains of 12 and 31 yards and then threw to Davante Adams to the Cowboys 27. Mason Crosby booted a 40-yard field goal and the Packers pulled to within 14-10 on the final play of the half.
The Teams Trade Scores in the Third Quarter
The Packers cut the Cowboys lead to one midway through the third quarter. Julius Peppers forced Dallas running back DeMarco Murray to cough up the football and Datone Jones fell on it at the Dallas 44. Lacy rambled for 29 yards to set up a 30-yard field goal by Crosby. The score was 14-13 Dallas.
Dallas wasted little time in responding. Romo found Dez Bryant for 20 yards and Jason Witten for 15. Murray ran for 26 yards to set up his own one-yard touchdown run one play later. The Cowboys led 21-13.
Then it was the Packers turn. Rodgers led the team across midfield on a 16-yard pass to Adams and a 26-yarder to Cobb. Facing 3rd-and-15 at the Dallas 46, Rodgers went deep down the middle to Adams for a 46-yard touchdown. McCarthy opted to kick the extra point and the score was now 21-20 Dallas with 1:52 left in the third quarter.
The Packers Take the Lead in the Fourth Quarter
The Packers took the lead on their first drive of the fourth quarter. Rodgers went 7-for-7 for 65 yards on the drive. It ended with a 13-yard bullet to tight end Richard Rodgers which gave Green Bay the lead, 26-21. Rodgers was able to elude the rush despite his injury and threaded the needle with a pinpoint pass.
“It looked kind of big when I threw it and then it kind of got a little smaller as the ball got a little closer,” Aaron Rodgers said of his throwing window. “I was able to move to the left slightly, which is actually a little bit easier moving to the left today for whatever reason on the calf, and I kind of saw Richard. He has incredible hands, but he did a good job of body-catching that one.”
The Packers went for two after scoring, but Rodgers couldn’t connect with Quarless and the lead remained 26-21. There was still 9:10 left in the fourth quarter.
The Controversial Moment in the Packers Win Over the Cowboys
The Cowboys got the ball back at their own 18 and started to march downfield. Murray gained 30 yards running to the right before Hyde made the stop. Five plays later, Dallas had the ball 4th-and-2 at the Green Bay 32 with 4:42 left in regulation. Romo threw deep down the left side for Bryant who initially grabbed the ball but lost control of it as he headed to the ground. It was initially ruled a completion that would have put the ball at the Green Bay 2, but Mike McCarthy challenged the play, and it was overturned upon review.
“Some people think throwing the red flag is fun,” McCarthy said after the game. “It was such an impactful play, you had to challenge. It was a confident challenge. And a hopeful one, too.”
“Well, I was happy it went the right way,” Rodgers added. “That’s one of those plays that could go either way.”
A dejected Bryant said, “I think it was a catch, and they took it away.”
The NFL rulebook had the following at the time, “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass, he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground.” Bryant didn’t maintain control.
“A-Rod saw it. He knew it. That took most of the suspense out of it,” Lacy said. “He walked past and was like, ‘It’s definitely incomplete.’ So that kills it. No suspense.”
“We felt it wasn’t a catch because when he hit the ground, it bobbled a little bit,” Hyde said. “It was a crucial call. I think the main thing is we felt like we weren’t getting calls all game.”
The Packers Put the Game Away
There was still more than four minutes left in the game, but the Packers let Dallas get the ball back. A 26-yard pass to Adams was the first key play. Then a 12-yard pass to Cobb on 3rd-and-11 clinched the win for the Packers.
Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels was impressed by Rodgers’ performance. “He set the tone for the whole locker room by how he fought through it today and played with a lot of guts,” Daniels said. “He’s the big dog in here. He’s the man. If he can play with guts like that, why can’t the rest of us?”
The win sent the Packers to Seattle for the NFC Championship Game. The Cowboys have been grumbling about this one ever since.
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