Before Sunday, no number 7 seed had won a playoff game since the NFL expanded its postseason field. In fact, those teams had been outscored by an average of more than 20 points in the six such games that they had played in the past three years. At AT&T Stadium this afternoon, the Green Bay Packers did not just deliver the first such win in league history; they did so with a completely dominant performance against the 2nd-seeded Dallas Cowboys.
En route to that dominant victory, the Packers got a nearly-perfect passer rating from quarterback Jordan Love in his postseason debut, a mark spoiled by one late incomplete pass. Love completed 16 of 21 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns and Romeo Doubs was his favorite target on the day, catching six passes for 151 yards and a touchdown as an explosive downfield threat.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Aaron Jones had a huge game once again when back in his home state. He ran the football 21 times for 118 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Jones has now gone over the century mark and scored at least once in each of his four games against the Cowboys, three of which have come at AT&T Stadium. Speaking of the venue, the Packers remain unbeaten at the Cowboys’ new home. They have now beaten Dallas in four straight games there, while also winning Super Bowl XLV on that field.
After continuing their streak as the Cowboys’ playoff nemesis, the Packers now advance to next week’s Divisional Playoffs for a date against their own: the San Francisco 49ers. That game will take place at Levi’s Stadium and should be scheduled for next Saturday, due to the Philadelphia Eagles-Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wild Card game being played on Monday.
From the start, the Packers were aggressive, particularly on offense. Matt LaFleur elected to start the game with the football after winning the coin toss, a decision that immediately paid off. After an early illegal contact penalty on All-Pro corner DaRon Bland gave the Packers their first first down, Love found a wide-open Romeo Doubs over the middle for 22 yards and the first big play of the game. Texas native Aaron Jones ripped off a 13-yard run, one of his 7 carries for 24 yards on the opening drive, and he finished it off with a three-yard plunge into the end zone. Jones’ score capped off a drive that went for 12 plays and ate up the first 7:52 of clock, and Anders Carlson’s PAT gave Green Bay an early 7-0 lead.
On their first set of downs, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-3 and Dak Prescott took off, picking up 18 yards. But the Packers’ defense got a stop courtesy of a drop by Ceedee Lamb over the middle. Jayden Reed brought in a fair catch at the 9, with linebacker Sam Williams right on top of him; Williams was flagged for kick catch interference, letting the Packers start the drive at their own 24-yard line instead.
Facing an early 3rd and 9 on their ensuing series, Love again delivered a strike to Doubs over the middle on an extended play for a 26-yard gain. That got the Packers to midfield, but they stalled out and Daniel Whelan came on for his first punt in two weeks. An excellent kick pinned the Cowboys at their own 7-yard line for their second drive.
On the second play of that drive, Jaire Alexander delivered a lightning bolt to AT&T Stadium. The Packers cornerback, who was questionable for the game after rolling his ankle in practice, undercut Brandin Cooks’ route and intercepted Dak Prescott at the 19-yard line. Despite a return into the end zone, he was ruled down at the point of the catch, but it delivered the game’s first turnover and set up the Packers in great position to take an early double-digit lead.
After a holding penalty on Tucker Kraft on first down, Love drilled a great throw to Doubs to get back that yardage and then some, setting up a 2nd-and-goal from the one. Jones delivered again, bouncing off a tackler in the backfield and stretching over the goal line for his second score of the day and a 14-0 Packers advantage.
Dallas put together its first lengthy drive of the game in response, but they still were unable to put any points on the board. A Tony Pollard run, a Ric Dowdle reception on third down, and a tremendous 19-yard catch by tight end Jake Ferguson set up the Cowboys in Packers territory. But on another third down, Keisean Nixon broke off from his underneath coverage on an extended play to sack Prescott and force another punt.
Taking over from their own 7, the Packers got an early third down conversion from Kraft, catching a 10-yard pass to move the chains. Love dialed up another ball to Doubs on a deep crosser, and a perfect throw set the receiver up for some big yards after the catch and a 39-yard gain to get into field goal range. They didn’t need the kick, however — from the 20-yard line on 3rd-and-7, Love floated a fadeaway to Dontayvion Wicks, who had beaten All-Pro Stephon Gilmore. Wicks hauled in the pass in the back of the end zone, giving the Packers a three-score lead. Anders Carlson doinked his kick off the right upright, but that should not take away from Love’s amazing throw:
With the Cowboys trying to drive and double-up to get back in the game, the Packers’ defense delivered another turnover, this one coming with points. On the first play after the two-minute warning, Prescott threw to Ceedee Lamb on a slant in the middle, but Darnell Savage came down from his high safety spot, jumping in front and intercepting the pass. The much-maligned Packers safety had nothing but open field in front of him, and he took the pass back for a 64-yard pick-six and a shocking 27-0 lead.
With still about two minutes left, Dallas got in scoring position quickly thanks to a Packers special teams mistake and a questionable flag on the defense. KaVontae Turpin took the ensuing kickoff back to the 45-yard line, then Quay Walker got called for a horse collar tackle, setting Dallas up well inside Green Bay territory. It took the Cowboys down until the final second of the half, but they finally got in the end zone. A penalty on Keisean Nixon set up the Cowboys at the goal line with two seconds left, and Prescott flipped to Jake Ferguson for a one-yard score, getting Dallas on the board just before the break.
With the Packers receiving the opening kickoff, the Cowboys also got the ball to start the second half. After going 2-for-7 targeting Lamb in the first half, Prescott completed all 4 passes to his top receiver to start the third quarter, reaching the Packers’ red zone. But Preston Smith batted down Prescott’s pass on third down, bringing on Brandon Aubrey for a 34-yard field goal. The attempt was good, but the Packers’ lead still stood at three possessions at 27-10 after Dallas ate up more than five minutes of clock.
Green Bay delivered another instant response, extending their lead back to 24. As he did multiple times in the first half, Jordan Love found Romeo Doubs once again for a huge gain. Love was under pressure and took a big hit from Micah Parsons, but linked up with a wide-open Doubs for 46 yards. Jones did the rest, finishing off the drive with a 9-yard score to complete his hat trick and bring the Packers’ lead to 34-10.
Dallas demonstrated that it wasn’t just going away, however. A big gain by Michael Gallup set the Cowboys up in field goal range, and after steadily working in towards the end zone, Tony Pollard punched into the end zone from a yard out, but with the Cowboys coming into the drive needing 24 points to tie, they tried a two-point conversion. Dallas got it with a toss to Ferguson, but they were flagged for two penalties and had to settle for an extra point instead. But Aubrey hit the right upright, and instead of cutting the lead to 17, it stayed an 18-point margin at 34-16.
The Packers’ next drive made that whole sequence feel academic. It was a three-play drive, starting with runs of 10 and 27 yards for Jones. The piece de resistance was a tight end leak, as Luke Musgrave found himself wide open coming across the formation from left to right, and Love hit him with a floater. Musgrave hauled it in and finished the job, pushing through a tackler into the end zone for another score, putting the Packers over the 40-point mark for the first time in the entire season.
Jordan Love found a wide open Luke Musgrave off of a play action bootleg for a 38-yard TD. Musgrave had 17.2 yards of separation, the 6th-most on a TD pass in the NGS era (since 2016).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 15, 2024
Love on Play Action (Wild Card): 7/9, 165 yards, TD#GBvsDAL | #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/1hKbcvog3z
Dallas had no answers on offense at that point; a fourth down pass from the Cowboys’ own 40-yard line went to the middle of nowhere on the final play of the third quarter. Aaron Jones broke off a 19-yard run on the very next play to go over 100 yards for the fourth straight game, and on a 4th down near the goal line, Love hit Doubs to give the receiver a touchdown to go with his 150 yards.
With many of the Packers’ defensive backups in the game, Prescott added a pair of garbage-time scores to Ferguson with six and four minutes left, giving the pair three on the day. Rico Dowdle converted a two-point conversion this time after the first score and Prescott ran in a second, but that only cut the Packers’ lead back down to 16 again at 48-32. Still, that made the game far closer and more nerve-wracking at the end than it perhaps should have been.
After bringing the backup offense in for a drive between those scores, Love and Jones returned for one more series, and an incomplete pass to Kraft on third down cost Love a perfect passer rating. Instead, he finished with a rating of 157.2, costing him a chance to be the first quarterback with a perfect rating in his postseason debut. Only when Prescott’s fourth-down pass sailed through the back of the end zone with about 35 seconds left was Green Bay’s victory fully assured.
Regardless of the numbers, the Packers must be thrilled with this performance, particularly on offense. Now they will need to find a way to shake off recent playoff struggles against the 49ers, but this offense is full of first- and second-year players who know nothing of those challenges in the past. This team is still ahead of schedule, but they showed that they can stack up with the best teams in the conference — in their own building, no less — and dominate from start to finish.
Next week, they’ll have a chance to do it once more.