Nine months after Aaron Rodgers shattered the Dallas Cowboys' Super Bowl dreams, America's team had the chance to exact its revenge.
Trailing by four points in the fourth quarter on Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, 28-24, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott drove deep into Green Bay Packers territory while taking nearly nine minutes off the clock. With time running out and facing the prospect of another difficult home loss, Prescott made his move. Running the zone read, Prescott pulled down the ball and raced to the end zone, diving past defensive backs Kentrell Brice and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for the go-ahead score.
However, while Prescott reclaimed the lead for Dallas, 31-28, he left over a minute remaining on the clock, too much with Aaron Rodgers on the opposing sideline. Sound familiar?
The Cowboys would come to regret their late-game clock management. After the ensuing touchback, Rodgers connected with Davante Adams and Martellus Bennett for back-to-back 14-yard gains to put the offense past midfield. On a key third-and-8, Rodgers escaped the pocket and eluded two attempted tackles to run for 18 yards and a new set of downs. The conversion set up the Packers deep in Dallas territory with 29 seconds left, enough to end the game in regulation rather than play for overtime. Two plays later, Rodgers hit Adams in the corner of the end zone for the game-winning score, capping off a nine-play, 75-yard drive that tore the hearts out of the Cowboys faithful in attendance.
The comeback further cements Rodgers' status as the bogeyman in Dallas. The two-time MVP has led the Packers to six victories in his past seven games against the Cowboys, with the last two decided by last-minute scores. Sunday's drive-extending scramble and subsequent touchdown to Adams sit alongside last season's unbelievable completion to Jared Cook in the NFC Divisional Round among the pantheon of Rodgers' greatest moments, both coming at Dallas' expense. While Prescott and Big D's cavalcade of playmakers remain in the thick of the playoff race, Rodgers' latest on-field heroics effectively mutes the hype that surrounded them entering the season.
Perhaps more importantly, the win also catapults the Packers into the front of NFC playoff discussion. Green Bay currently sits at 4-1 and faces just two of last year's playoff teams the rest of regular season. One of those games -- Week 9's home tilt with the Detroit Lions -- comes after a fortuitously scheduled bye week. Furthermore, the Packers lost their only game thus far while effectively playing without either of their starting offensive tackles, top defender and No. 1 receiver. More than any individual opponent, health looks like the team's biggest obstacle the rest of the way.
And the Packers could round into shape over the next month. The offensive line -- a unit that has opened each game this season with a different combinations of players -- could have its five preferred starters back in uniform as soon as next week. In the backfield, rookie running back Aaron Jones appears to have usurped Ty Montgomery's place atop the depth chart following a 19-carry, 125-yard performance against the Cowboys. For an offense already averaging 27.4 points per game, the prospect of finally playing at full strength should terrify opponents.
The Packers don't have the same ceiling on defense, but that unit could improve as well. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels returned from a hamstring injury on Sunday after a multi-game absence, and the team expects edge rusher Nick Perry to slowly reduce the size of his cast in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, second-year inside linebacker Blake Martinez has broken out, recording 19 tackles and making several drive-ending plays over the last two games. As long as the secondary doesn't sustain any long-term absences -- Kevin King and Morgan Burnett both left Sunday's contest with a concussion and hamstring issue respectively -- the defense should yield fewer points down the stretch.
And above it all, the Packers have Rodgers, the league's most dangerous quarterback. Despite playing with far less than a full deck around him, Rodgers has performed like an MVP, throwing a league-leading 13 touchdowns and completing nearly 67 percent of his passes. His stellar play has made Green Bay's offense the NFL's best in the red zone and one of the top units in football.
More importantly, Rodgers has the Packers in first place in the NFC North and tied with the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers for best record in the conference. With a few fortunate breaks, Green Bay could soon occupy that space all by itself.