In a season filled with fascinating, incredible, and sometimes hilarious plays, we at Acme Packing Company looked back at the 2016 Green Bay Packers to determine which ones were truly the best. Over the next few days, we will reveal our countdown of the top ten plays of the 2016 season, as voted on by 13 APC contributors.
The contributors were asked to vote on what they believed to be the best overall plays of the 2016 season, based on a number of factors. Included in the analysis were impact on the season overall, impact within the game, highlight-reel spectacle, individual effort or achievement, and hilarity or ridiculousness.
Everything is bigger in the playoffs. The spotlight shines more brightly on individual players. This is particularly true of quarterbacks, who are judged — fairly or unfairly — on their teams’ success in the postseason. While Aaron Rodgers had a terrific game against the Giants in the Wild Card round, he and the Packers entered their Divisional round matchup with the Dallas Cowboys as an afterthought to Dallas’ superstar rookie tandem of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Furthermore, Rodgers would be playing without his favorite target, Jordy Nelson. Instead, he served up one of the finest plays in his career, and gave us the play that was APC’s unanimous pick as the #1 play of the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 season.
The Packers, a 5.5-point underdog, jumped all over the Cowboys after an early Dan Bailey field goal, scoring three straight touchdowns to take a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter. Dallas bounced back, however, scoring twice before the half to pull within 21-13.
Green Bay scored the only points of the third quarter, a 3-yard touchdown from Aaron Rodgers to Jared Cook that gave them a 28-13 lead. However, Dallas whittled that lead away in the fourth, scoring twice and converting a two-point attempt to pull into a tie with 4 minutes left.
Mason Crosby’s 56-yard field goal gave the Packers a 31-28 lead with 1:33 to go, but a quick drive by the Cowboys (stopped by a Nick Perry pass breakup on third down) set up Bailey for a 52-yarder to tie the game with 35 ticks left on the clock.
Aaron Rodgers wasn’t done.
After an incomplete pass on first down, he found Ty Montgomery for a 17-yard gain to move the chains with 23 seconds to go. On first and 10 from the Packers’ 42, Jeff Heath sacked Rodgers, who unbelievably held on to the football as the Packers took a timeout. An incomplete pass to Cook set up a third and 20 from the Packers’ 32-yard line with 12 seconds on the clock.
Kneel the ball and go to overtime, right?
After essentially drawing up a play schoolyard-style (a tidbit which Randall Cobb revealed in the days after the game), Rodgers dropped back in the shotgun with three receivers to the right and one to the left, with Ty Montgomery in the backfield to his right. At the snap, Rodgers retreats quickly and immediately spins to his left, rolling out towards the sideline. Right end DeMarcus Lawrence stunts inside left tackle David Bakhtiari, opening up the left side for Rodgers. Left guard Lane Taylor leaks out with his quarterback, protecting his front as linebacker Justin Durant tries to reach Rodgers, while Montgomery helps to protect the back side.
The four receivers all go deep, with Davante Adams (wide left) running a go route. On the right side, Geronimo Allison (wide right) runs a deep post, Randall Cobb joins him with a slightly shallower break, and Jared Cook goes on a deep cross, breaking towards the left sideline at about midfield.
As Durant eventually fights through Taylor’s block, Rodgers steps up and towards the sideline just a bit and unloads a slightly off-balance throw to the left sideline, where Cook is waiting behind the coverage of safety Byron Jones:
Cook taps both sets of toes just inches from the sideline at the Cowboys’ 32-yard line, falling out of bounds to stop the clock with three seconds left and within Mason Crosby’s field goal range.
Take a look at the pass routes on this play from the high sideline angle: you can see here how Adams pulls cornerback Brandon Carr deep, making him unable to come back to help with coverage on Cook.
Although this play was the one that put the Packers in position to win, Mason Crosby still had to hit a long field goal to seal the deal.
Crosby lined up for a 51-yard field goal to win the game and send the Packers to the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three years. His first attempt looked good all the way, drifting a bit from left to right late but splitting the uprights perfectly. However, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett called a timeout prior to the snap, forcing Crosby to attempt a second kick.
This one appeared to hug the left upright until about the goal line, when it drifted right just a bit — identically to his first kick — and snuck inside the post. Green Bay had just knocked off the NFC’s top seed and advanced to the conference championship game against the Falcons, a game which I do not remember because I have blocked it out of my memory.
The final two minutes of the Packers-Cowboys game featured ridiculous swings of win probability. With the Packers having the ball on third down with the game tied and just 1:48 to go, it was essentially a 50/50 toss-up. Having to settle for a Crosby 56-yard field goal to go ahead 31-28 and kicking off gave the Packers about a 73% chance of winning, but Dallas bounced back to a 76% favorite before Perry’s pass breakup on third down. The tying field goal swung the numbers back near even, but Rodgers’ pass to Cook was the single highest-leverage play of the year, increasing the Packers’ win probability by 64%.
10. Gone in 8.78 seconds
9. Ty Montgomery is a wide receiver no more
8. Clay Matthews forces two fumbles on one play
7. Davante Adams torches the Seahawks
6. Another Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary
5. Another 9-second touchdown pass
4. Rodgers hits Adams while being dragged to the ground
3. Micah Hyde reads Dak Prescott’s mind
2. Rodgers’ bomb to Nelson for the win
1. Rodgers’ miracle throw to Jared Cook