GB-DAL grades: Aaron Rodgers earns excellent grade in Packers' win
Green Bay Packers 34, Dallas Cowboys 31
Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from Green Bay’s thrilling 34-31 Divisional Round win over Dallas to earn a berth in the NFC title game:
Quarterback grade: Aaron Rodgers, 88.1
Rodgers sends a message to any teams in his path
If you’re an Atlanta fan, you should be afraid — very afraid. In a game in which Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had some issues with his downfield passing (6-of-12 with one touchdown and one pick on throws of 20-plus yards), he was still the player everyone left the game talking about because of that third-down, 35-yard throw to tight end Jared Cook to set up the game-winning field goal. It was a simply remarkable piece of quarterbacking that is hard to imagine any other passer in the league making. That play in some respects hides an uneven display in the second half, where he threw a bad pick and struggled to get on top of the Cowboys’ blitz packages. But great players make great plays when it matters most, and there is no denying that Rodgers is a great player. Is there any passer you’d rather give the ball to with 40 seconds left and three points needed?
Top offensive grades:
QB Aaron Rodgers, 88.1
TE Jared Cook, 86.4
FB Aaron Ripkowski, 83.5
LT David Bakhtiari, 82.8
LG Lane Taylor, 81.0
No Nelson, no problem
Despite stalling in the second half, this was the kind of offensive effort that would send a shudder through the hearts of any future opponents. Up front the line (including backup rookie tackle Jason Spriggs when he filled in) allowed just seven pressures combined on 47 dropbacks, as they continue to give Aaron Rodgers more time than seems humanly possible. The concern? When the Cowboys blitzed, Rodgers’ QB rating dropped by 48 points, and running back Ty Montgomery was exposed as a pass-blocker when called upon. Is that the blueprint to beat the Packers? Or with the possible return of Jordy Nelson next week and the emergence of Cook, will they have enough ammunition to beat Atlanta and make it to the Super Bowl?
Top defensive grades:
SCB Micah Hyde, 92.0
NT Kenny Clark, 82.2
ILB Joe Thomas, 79.3
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 77.7
DE Mike Daniels, 74.5
Hyde comes up with the big plays to set the Cowboys back
The Packers’ secondary was shorthanded coming into this game, and Morgan Burnett’s injury weakened them further less than 20 snaps into the game, but slot corner Micah Hyde came up with big plays throughout the game to ensure the Cowboys were always playing from behind. His sack on the opening drive stunted the Cowboys’ early momentum after picking up a pair of first downs in their first four plays, and he added a pair of hurries against Ezekiel Elliott and Lance Dunbar later in the game as well. His interception shut down another drive into Green Bay territory in the third quarter, jumping a screen to take a possession away from the Cowboys.
Solid performances in the defensive front against Dallas’ fearsome offensive line were led by rookie nose tackle Kenny Clark, who picked up a career-high three defensive stops, including tracking down Elliott on a screen, and tied a career-high with three hurries, getting good push in the pocket in the first half to play his part in the Cowboys’ early struggles. Another daunting challenge awaits this Packers’ defense next week in Atlanta, but they’ve come up with enough two weeks in a row to play their part in advancing to the NFC championship game.
Quarterback grade: Dak Prescott, 82.6
Prescott connects with Bryant often in impressive playoff debut
Dak Prescott’s first career playoff start resulted in a defeat for the Cowboys, but he had an extremely impressive debut in bringing Dallas back from 18 points down to give the Cowboys a chance to win it in the end. Prescott exploited favorable matchups down the field to Dez Bryant, and in the second half only really came up short on one drive with a pass that should have been intercepted, and the screen pass that was intercepted by Micah Hyde. Prescott was particularly impressive against the blitz, collecting two of his touchdowns with a perfect 158.3 passer rating on the nine dropbacks that the Packers blitzed him. Another playoff defeat will be disappointing for the Cowboys’ fan base, but Prescott stood tall again and looked ready for everything playoff football had to throw at him.
Top offensive grades:
C Travis Frederick, 84.7
QB Dak Prescott, 82.6
WR Dez Bryant, 81.3
RB Ezekiel Elliott, 77.4
RG Zack Martin, 76.2
Cowboys fire back after slow start
After dropping to a 21-3 deficit, the Cowboys’ offense rebounded with a strong showing to set up a “whoever has the ball last, wins” situation in the game’s final two minutes. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott (84.2 rushing grade) topped 100 yards in his playoff debut, picking up 80 yards after contact and keeping the offense balanced despite the lopsided score early in the game. Wideout Dez Bryant added a 100-yard game of his own and two scores, dominating Packers CB Ladarius Gunter with his second straight multi-touchdown game after sitting out the Cowboys’ Week 17 defeat in Philadelphia.
Top defensive grades:
S Jeff Heath, 84.3
DE Tyrone Crawford, 73.5
CB Morris Claiborne, 72.6
DE DeMarcus Lawrence, 71.7
LB Anthony Hitchens, 71.6
Passivity on D leads to heartbreak for Dallas
It was a first half that was like watching men against boys. The Dallas defense rushed four, the Packers had time to throw, and the Packers made plays. Indeed, at half time it looked like the game was over, and when Aaron Rodgers led another scoring drive to start the second half, it really looked like game over. But the Cowboys adjusted and the blitz created big plays, as they got more aggressive, resulting in an interception and three sacks that put Dallas in a great place to get to overtime. However, on that critical 3rd-and-20 play, they played soft coverage, and Rodgers and then kicker Mason Crosby broke the hearts of America’s team. In a game where they needed all their playmakers on D to step up, it just didn’t work out that way. And nobody really symbolized that more than the usually excellent Sean Lee (62.1). He made just three defensive stops while missing a tackle and getting beaten badly in coverage for a touchdown.
PFF Game-Ball Winner: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
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