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Packers’ Top Plays of 2015, #1: Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers

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It won Play of the Year in the entire NFL in 2015. Could it really be anything else?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We have finally come to the end of our countdown of the Green Bay Packers’ top plays of the 2015 season. After identifying numerous ridiculous or exemplary plays, there really was only one option for the top spot.

The Packers had just come off a Thanksgiving night loss to the Bears, their fourth loss in the past five games. Seven days later, they went up to Detroit on Thursday night, having just lost to the Lions three weeks prior at Lambeau Field in a game which featured one of the plays that tied for 10th place on our list. In that game, the Packers mounted a furious comeback that ended in disappointment. The week 13 contest looked to be headed in the same direction.

The Situation

Midway through the third quarter, the Packers trailed the Lions by a score of 20-0. The offense was pathetic, the defense was mediocre, and it was so bad that Packers fans were looking to John Crockett as a change of pace back after Eddie Lacy had apparently been benched.

Then Randall Cobb fell on a football in the end zone - a ball that James Starks coughed up - getting the Packers on the board and starting a comeback. A touchdown from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams followed, but after a Lions field goal, the Packers drove the length of the field and Rodgers capped off the drive with this 17-yard touchdown scamper to pull the Packers back within two points:

With just three minutes left on the clock, the Packers’ defense needed a quick stop, but they allowed a conversion on third-and-12. However, they got a convenient timeout at the two-minute warning and three straight runs by the Lions set up a punt to give the Packers back the football with 23 seconds to go.

Green Bay took over at their own 21, and after a pair of incompletions, it was time for a multi-lateral play. Rodgers ended up back with the football in his hands, and was brought down by Devin Taylor. However, here’s how he was taken down to the ground:

What you see there is a player making contact with a quarterback’s facemask, turning his head around and bringing him down. Right or wrong, the referees called a penalty on the play, setting up the Packers with one final shot at the end zone on an untimed down from their own 39-yard line.

The Play

With Aaron Rodgers’ arm doing the work, a 60-yard throw is at least theoretically possible, so the call is to run all vertical routes and have him heave up the football. The Packers line up James Jones on the right with Richard Rodgers in the slot, Jared Abbrederis on the left with Randall Cobb in the slot, and Davante Adams motions from left to right pre-snap.

At the snap, Rodgers retreats, then starts to scramble to the left but quickly realizes that his blockers can clear the right side for him, so he goes deeper into the backfield and loops back around to his right, narrowly avoiding an oncoming rusher. With a clear field in front of him, Rodgers leans into a throw, uncorking a moonshot from the Packers’ 35-yard line. Here’s the play:

As the ball comes down a few yards past the goal line (about a 68-yard throw, for the record), Richard Rodgers is backing up towards the end zone, finding all of the Lions defenders behind him or, for a bizarre reason, playing in the middle of the field, more than 20 yards away. He times his leap perfectly and makes a clean catch of the football, falling to the turf in the end zone in a pile of bodies. Cobb embraces him immediately on the ground, while Jones and Abbrederis leap for joy.

Take one more look at this play from the back end zone camera angle to see just how nuts the throw and catch were.

The Impact

The immediate impact of this play is obvious - it won the football game. The 61-yard touchdown pass gave the Packers a 27-23 victory over a divisional rival on the road.

Long-term, however, it may have been even more critical a victory. Remember, the Packers had just gone 1-4 after starting the season 6-0. Had they lost this game, it’s entirely possible that they would have missed the playoffs entirely, not only robbing fans of a second thrilling Hail Mary, but also putting a painful black mark on the season.

Instead, this victory moved the Packers to 8-4 instead of 7-5, and kept them in the driver’s seat for the NFC North. While they did not end up winning the division, thanks to the Vikings’ win at Lambeau Field in week 17, this play finally represented a successful comeback, after the team had fallen painfully short so often in the weeks prior.

Furthermore, this play won “Play of the Year” at the NFL Honors presentation before Super Bowl 50. There was really no other choice for us.

The Full Countdown

10. Damarious Randall recovers the onside kick/picks off Cam Newton
9. James Jones beats Josh Norman deep on fourth down
8. Randall Cobb's one-handed lung-buster
7. Aaron Rodgers clowns the 49ers defense
6. Jayrone Elliott seals the deal against Seattle
5. Micah Hyde's backhanded interception
4. Randall denies Danny Woodhead to clinch a win
3. Jeff Janis arrives and keeps hope alive
2. Janis answers Aaron Rodgers’ second Hail Mary