Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers shook off a calf injury to deliver two late scoring drives that lifted the Packers to a 26-21 NFL playoff win over Dallas on Sunday.
The Cowboys, making their first playoff trip to Green Bay since the “Ice Bowl” of 1967, endured their first road defeat of the season after eight victories.
A video review in the final five minutes that stripped Dez Bryant of a catch near the end zone helped to dash their hopes.
Rodgers completed 11 of 14 passes for 173 yards on touchdown drives in the third and fourth quarters as the Packers scored 13 unanswered points to rally from a double-digit deficit.
He and the Packers will play the reigning Super Bowl champion Seahawks in Seattle next Sunday in the National Football Conference title game, with a berth in the NFL’s championship extravaganza on February 1 on the line.
The Seahawks powered past Carolina 31-17 on Saturday.
The Packers will battle for the conference title for the first time since they beat Chicago after the 2010 season en route to their fourth Super Bowl crown.
Green Bay, who had fallen behind after an early strike for a 7-0 lead, whittled the deficit to 21-20 on Rodgers’ 46-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams.
Rodgers, nursing a left calf injury that had him looking uncharacteristically tentative in the first half, then put the Packers ahead with a 13-yard laser to reserve tight end Richard Rodgers for a touchdown.
The Packers then failed on a two-point conversion attempt but still led 26-21 with 9:10 left in the game.
– Bryant denied big catch –
On the Cowboys’ ensuing possession, Bryant leaped for Tony Romo’s deep pass on a fourth down and was initially ruled to have made the 31-yard catch over the head of Packers cornerback Sam Shields.
But after watching the video officials rule that Bryant lost control of the ball he was holding in his left hand when he hit the turf near the Packers’ goal line and didn’t complete the catch.
Rodgers thought the call in his team’s favor was fair.
“I was happy it went the right way,” he said of the challenge by Packers coach Mike McCarthy that prompted the review.
“It was a well-reffed game. It’s one of those plays that sometimes could go either way but it looked like in the Jumbotron (giant video screen) it was incomplete.”
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s head of officials, explained the call on Twitter, where the play aroused plenty of comment.
“Bryant going to the ground. By rule he must hold onto it throughout the entire process of contacting the ground. He didn’t so it is incomplete,” Blandino tweeted.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he thought the catch looked good, but added that officiating didn’t cause the Cowboys to lose.
“That was a big play in the ballgame, but there were plenty of other big plays in the ballgame,” said Garrett, whose team didn’t get the ball again.
Cowboys quarterback Romo threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns and NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray had 25 carries for 123 yards and a TD in the defeat that ended their first playoff run since 2009.
“I don’t want to make this about the officiating,” Garrett said. “We didn’t do what we needed to do to win this ballgame. We have to live with that.”