ARLINGTON, Texas — By all rights, Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams weren’t even supposed to be in the situation they found themselves in as the clock wound down Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Rodgers once carried a reputation — in some circles, anyway — that he wasn’t a clutch fourth-quarter performer. Adams had been carted off the field 10 days earlier with a concussion after taking one of the most vicious hits anyone can remember in a game against the Chicago Bears.
Yet, when it came time for the Green Bay Packers to break the hearts of the Dallas Cowboys for the second time in the same calendar year on the same field, Rodgers and Adams were there for their team. Rodgers’ 12-yard touchdown pass to Adams in the corner of the end zone with 11 seconds left gave the Packers an exhilarating 35-31 victory over the Cowboys, continuing a rare early run for Green Bay during a season that gets more interesting by the game.
Many times Sunday it looked like the Packers were out of it, the last time when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished off a long drive with a short touchdown run, giving Dallas a 31-28 lead with 1 minute, 13 seconds left. But Rodgers had been rallying the Packers all day and, armed with one timeout and most of the play-calling responsibilities, he quickly drove Green Bay to a first down at Dallas’ 12-yard line.
From there, Rodgers fired a fade pass to Adams in the left corner of the end zone, but the throw was broken up by cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Undeterred, Rodgers went right back to Adams with the same pass and this time the wide receiver outjumped Lewis for the ball, silencing the crowd and igniting a wild sideline celebration by an injury-riddled team that somehow seems charmed this season.
“I was going to call another play,” Rodgers said, “but Tae came back and said, ‘Call it again.’ With his eyes, he just said, ‘Throw a better ball.’ ... Just put a better throw on it and he made a great catch.”
The game-winning play was nothing new for Rodgers, though it should put to rest any doubts about his comeback ability, undeserved as they are. Just 10 months ago in the same building, he took over with 35 seconds to play and engineered a 34-31 playoff victory over the Cowboys, zipping a 36-yard pass to toe-dragging tight end Jared Cook that set up a 51-yard field goal by Mason Crosby as time expired.
A month ago against Cincinnati, Rodgers led a tying drive that ended with a short touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson with 17 seconds left, then passed the Packers into position for Crosby’s winning field goal in overtime. It was his first overtime victory in his 10 seasons as a starter.
“I think he gets a lot of grief for not having fourth-quarter comebacks,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “That’s a big thing that people hammer him on is not having those fourth-quarter comebacks. Obviously, he’s more than capable of doing that and today was a good example. Got us in the right looks, right protections and some good calls running the football and (making) perfect throws. I don’t understand why people give him flak about it.”
On a day when Crosby mysteriously couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and with Nelson standing on the sideline during the final drive for unexplained medical reasons, Rodgers turned to Adams, something he has done with regularity this season and last. Rodgers opened the nine-play, 75-yard drive with a 14-yard fade to Adams and finished it with the winning bullet to the corner of the end zone. A field goal would have tied it, but that was never Rodgers’ goal on the drive.
“I’m thinking touchdown,” he said. “We had time, we had a timeout. The key to any good 2-minute drive is the first play. You’ve got to get some positive yards.”
Of course, the real miracle was Adams was even on the field. He was taken straight to the hospital after the hit by Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan during a Thursday night game, but he was back at work in a few days and finally cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol Friday afternoon. Just in time to catch seven passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
How did Adams put that sobering hit behind him so quickly?
“It’s the resurrection; he’s back,” wide receiver Randall Cobb said with a smile before turning serious. “It’s a mental approach to what we do. We take a chance every time we step out there on the field. To have a hit like that 10 days ago and be back on the field and playing the way that he did and making plays across the board and finishing the game for us, that’s huge. I think that speaks to the level of toughness, mental toughness to be able to go through that and come out on the winning side.”
It was no big deal to Adams. He got out of the hospital the next day and experienced no headaches throughout the week.
“The team relies on me to be out here and I definitely wouldn’t have come out today if I didn’t feel 100 percent,” he said. “But I felt great so I gave it a shot. It was worth it.”
It certainly was for the Packers, who improved to 4-1 despite a run of injuries that continued to claim victims Sunday. Fortunately for the Packers, Rodgers and Adams were still standing — and standing tall — at the end.