By Nick Shook
Read full post on NFL.com
Thank the heavens for Aaron Rodgers.
That’s what football fans everywhere outside of the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area were saying Sunday, when the Packers quarterback led Green Bay to a thrilling upset victory over the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys. A week after all four home teams came away with resounding wins, Rodgers and his green-and-gold-clad friends gave us fans of road teams reason to cheer. Thankfully, we have warriors away from home to celebrate.
It was great for football, and even better for this weekly column. But those weren’t the only stars listed under the visitors category. Here are the greatest on the road from the Divisional Round.
Greatest on the Road
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
We’ve spent the last 18 hours waxing poetic about how Rodgers’ performance was pure art — both aesthetically pleasing and stimulating for the human senses. With each throw we held our breath, felt our blood pressure rise and the chills flow through our bodies as the quarterback did what few in the history of mankind have done. He rolled right, rolled left and flung darts with what seemed to be ease. It thrilled the diehards in Wisconsin and across the nation, and left everyone gasping for air and wishing for more.
Rodgers, in typical Rodgers fashion, put the Packers ahead 21-3, which at one point seemed insurmountable. The Packers became an offensive machine with Rodgers behind the wheel. Dallas scrambled to adjust to stop the quarterback, and though the Cowboys eventually found a temporary answer, his final drive capped a day that won’t soon be forgotten.
Tied at 31 in the final minute, Rodgers tried his hardest to move Green Bay into field goal range as the clock wound down. It looked unlikely as he rolled left toward the sideline under pressure, but the fortunes of the Packers and the league changed as he flung a bullet 35 yards to Jared Cook, who hauled in the pass and dragged his toes ever so magically along the boundary. The completion set up a 51-yard field goal, which Mason Crosby drilled twice — one that was wiped out by a Dallas timeout, and another that was good to send Green Bay to the NFC Championship.
The legend of Rodgers grows. It’s Aaron’s world, and we’re all — well, maybe not Dallas fans — just happily living in it.
Also considered …
LeâVeon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Speaking of a legend that continues to grow, take a moment to search Le’Veon Bell‘s name on Twitter. You’ll find boatloads of tweets raving about his running style, which is simultaneously patient and explosive (NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling has a great write-up on it here). The running back practically floats in the backfield before choosing his path and bursting through it. It’s caused nightmares for unfortunate opponents and sleepless nights for those preparing to face him.
His latest victim was 11 men deep, wearing red and yellow with arrowheads on their helmets. The Kansas City Chiefs tried and tried again, but couldn’t keep the Steelers star from again resetting the franchise record for most rushing yards by a running back in a playoff game, erasing last week’s mark of 167 yards with 170 on 30 carries against Kansas City. Led by Bell’s ground dominance, the Steelers owned close to a nine-minute advantage in time of possession, which enabled Pittsburgh to keep a tight grip on its field goal-based lead. As Bell worked, the Chiefs‘ offense sat on the sideline, awaiting their opportunities.
They came few and far between, and after failing on a two-point conversion attempt to tie the game, Bell took one more carry two yards before a pair of Ben Roethlisberger completions finished off the game. The Steelers rise and fall with Bell, the bellcow they ride to victories, which has now amounted to two in the postseason. He presents another challenge for the New England Patriots, who are surely trying to devise ways to stop him as this is typed.
Jared Cook, Green Bay Packers
Football is a fickle beast.
Cook recorded a handful of catches in the Packers‘ win over the Cowboys, but there were also some ugly drops and a tipped pass that bounced off his helmet and brought back unwelcome memories of Brandon Bostick‘s botching of an onside kick in the NFC title game against Seattle in the 2014 season’s playoffs. Cook won’t go down as the goat after how he finished this season’s divisional playoff game, though.
The tight end lined up wide right and ran across the field on routes Rodgers’ reportedly drew up in the huddle in four verticals fashion. You go deep, you go deep, and you, Jared Cook, streak across the field. Just make sure you keep your feet in when the ball enters your hands.
Cook did just that and dragged his two feet in an act that will surely be highlighted by Nate Burleson during his “Toe Drag Swag” segment on Good Morning Football. His catch and deft foot placement should be the quintessential example for future receiver training, and was the final push Green Bay needed to get over the hump and send the Cowboys faithful home in shock, setting up a winning, 51-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. It’s his first playoff experience and likely will be his most memorable when it’s all said and done. Whether that includes a Lombardi Trophy is yet to be seen, but he’ll long be known as the pass catcher who kept the Packers alive and cemented the latest chapter in the tale of the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay.