Our APC panel voted on the best plays of the 2017 season and today we look at No. 6 on the list. Aaron Rodgers finds Geronimo Allison on a free play for 72 yards to set up the game-winner in overtime against the Cincinnati Bengals.
With 7:30 left in overtime, on a day when the Packers defense struggled to contain Andy Dalton and the Bengals (yikes, I know), Green Bay desperately needed to convert a third-and-10 from their own 21 to avoid giving the ball back to Cincy.
As the clock ran down, Rodgers hit the aggressive Bengals defense with the hard count, got them to jump and turned a free play into a near walk-off.
We can’t dissect the actual play without first mentioning it was a free play. Rodgers drew the Bengals offside and knew he had a chance to make something happen downfield. The truly amazing thing about Rodgers’ ability to consistently create off free plays is how unprepared the defense always seems to be.
It’s as if everyone on defenses freezes for a moment. The Packers, who practice these situations every day, consistently find open lanes downfield even though every team knows that’s what they’re looking to exploit.
The “all go’s” approach to free plays works perfectly against a two-safety shell look. Jordy Nelson, running from the slot, holds the safety while Allison beats his man on the sideline.
Even if Allison had been open, if Nelson isn’t there occupying the safety to his side of the field, Rodgers likely can’t fit the ball in between the sideline and that help defender. Instead, by the time the ball gets to Allison he’s running free.
Notice how out of position the safety is by the time the ball gets to Allison. That’s a credit to Rodgers’ arm strength, but also to Nelson putting pressure on that safety as well as Rodgers using his eyes to hold him there. The quarterback probably knows as soon as that safety stays put in the middle of the field, he has Allison on the sideline.
From there, safety George Iloka takes a bad angle and Allison makes him miss easily. Already in Mason Crosby’s field goal range, Allison keeps eating up turf, turning Adam Jones around twice before finally going down inside the 10 and setting up a chip shot try for Crosby.
Crosby made the easy field goal to give the Packers a 27-24 win over the Bengals, a critical bounceback victory after a tough loss in Atlanta the week before. It was one of a host of clutch moments from the Packers last season; it was one of three overtime wins, plus the Rodgers-to-Adams late-game touchdown to beat the Cowboys.
Though 2017 will be remembered as a lost season for Rodgers and the Packers, he posted a number of clutch moments when he was on the field, including the incredible touchdown throw to Jordy Nelson to force overtime earlier in this game.
In the moment, this felt like a turning point in the season. After that, the Packers got rolling, earning wins against the Bears on a short week and in Dallas. In another season, this could have been a signature moment, the catalyst that got the year back on track. In 2017, it’s simply a forgotten highlight due to Rodgers’ broken collarbone a few weeks later.