The defining play of Sunday's 26-21 Green Bay Packers victory over the Dallas Cowboys was inarguably the Dez Bryant 31-yard reception that was reversed upon review. If it stands, the Cowboys are set up inside Green Bay's 2-yard line with a chance to take the lead late in the fourth. Without it, the Packers take possession with the chance to run out the clock. Any discussion of the game must begin here.
Dez Bryant's non-catch highlights bad rule
The Packers certainly aren't complaining about it right now, but the NFL's overly complicated rules regarding what is and is not a catch have created another unnecessary controversy.
NFL Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 stats that, "If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete."
On paper, such a definition works just fine. Obtain control and maintain it throughout the process. But what if a player catches the ball in the air, takes multiple steps while fully in control of the ball, lands both elbows on the ground, and then only after loses control?
That is precisely what happened Sunday to Dez Bryant. When viewed live, his play on the ball looked like one of the most dazzling catches ever witnessed at Lambeau Field. But because the rules stipulate that, essentially, the ball cannot move as the result of the ground before the difficult-to-define notion of possession had been established, the play was ruled incomplete.
By rule the refs made the correct call, the same way the tuck rule was correct. Those angry at the decision should take aim at the rules. An adjustment to prevent these situations would do a lot of good for the league.
Davante Adams can be a game-breaking receiver
It's a fun coincidence that on the same field that Dez Bryant made headlines for his involvement in a hotly debated play, a similarly built receiver had the game of his life.
Davante Adams had been quiet for several weeks leading up to the Divisional Round playoff game. In his last four games, the rookie wideout produced just four catches for a combined 29 yards. More than the numbers, Adams looked out of sync. He dropped as many passes as he caught and misread back shoulder throw situations. Like many players in their first year, he had hit the rookie wall:
It's not unusual for rookies to fade near the end of the year. In some cases, they have already played three weeks more than their longest college season, and the amount of work involved can whittle down inexperienced players.
Still, if the Packers' title hopes are to be realized, it has to involve Adams working through his issues. As prolific as Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have been this season, the top defenses can figure out how to scheme them out of games. When that happens, Adams will need to step up again and carry the burden for his teammates. He has the talent and the trust of his quarterback. Now he just needs the results.
The Cowboys don't register as a "top defense," but they were able to take away Jordy Nelson (2 catches, 22 yards). With Randall Cobb working from the slot and in the backfield, that left Adams to pick up the slack along the boundaries.
And that's precisely what he did. Like Bryant, Adams possesses a wide range of skills to abuse defenders. On third-and-3 with three minutes remaining, he used his big body to post up a Cowboys corner and plucked a 50/50 ball safety away for 26 yards. Earlier, he crossed over safety J.J. Wilcox on the way to a 46-yard touchdown. The Packers often sent Adams on quick comeback routes and allowed him to make plays after the catch.
The next step for the rookie is developing consistency. With Cobb's pending free agency, there's a chance the Packers will need Adams to step into a larger role. However, that's months down the line. For now, he delivered a great performance in his playoff debut when his team needed him most.
Dom Capers' defense stopped the best offense it will face in the NFC playoffs
While the Cowboys were never thought of as the scariest team in the NFC playoff field, their offense rated as the best behind the Packers'. Tony Romo was once again healthy, Dez Bryant is in his prime, and the offensive line consistently carved out holes for DeMarco Murray on the ground. They represented a challenge for any defense, especially one like Green Bay's.
And for much of the game, it appeared that Dallas was going to have a big day on offense. Tony Romo played efficient football from the opening kick, helping the Cowboys to a 21-13 lead midway through the third quarter. The Packers, already without defensive end Josh Boyd and playing Jarrett Bush in place of the ineffective Brad Jones in coverage, appeared to have their backs against the wall.
But Dom Capers' crew stepped up at that point, and Dallas never scored again. Nick Perry sacked Romo on the last play of the third quarter and again on the first play of the fourth, forcing the Cowboys' first punt since the game's opening drive. The Packers forced another fourth down on Dallas' next possession setting up the aforementioned Bryant non-catch. Without those two defensive stops, Green Bay doesn't win Sunday's game.
To continue moving forward, the Packers will need a more complete effort on defense. Though not as explosive on offense, the Seattle Seahawks can exploit teams on the ground behind Marshawn Lynch. Still, this was the biggest test for Green Bay's defense since facing the New England back in Week 13. It should help prepare the unit for next weekend's NFC Championship game.