Postgame schadenfreude, hog-calling How ’bout Them Cowboys? edition

I went into this weekend thinking that, as was the case throughout too much of the ’70s and ’80s, the Badgers and Packers could go 0 for the weekend.

To quote Howard Cosell while narrating NFL highlights during ABC’s Monday Night Football, “But no!”

The weekend began with Saturday night’s 38–17 steamrolling of Nebraska. (Well before Nebraska joined the Big Ten, UW Band members would sing, for reasons unknown, “When It’s Hog-Calling Time in Nebraska.”)

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Steven M. Sipple harkens back to the days of the Big Eight Conference’s Nebraska–Oklahoma rivalry:

You surely remember that thing folks used to call “Sooner Magic.”

It used to ruin Nebraska football seasons.

Well, how about that “Wiscy magic?”

Wisconsin pulled off quite a trick Saturday night before 89,860 spectators at Memorial Stadium.

With a 38-17 triumph, the UW program continues to pull away from Nebraska’s. The Badgers are 6-1 against the Huskers since 2011, the year NU started playing in the Big Ten.

Paul Chryst’s crew eked out wins against Nebraska each of the previous two seasons. But it brought the hammer in this game, showing in a forceful manner why folks regard Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) as the clear-cut favorite in the West Division.

Nebraska (3-3, 2-1) looks destined to go a fifth straight season without a division championship, and 18th without a conference title.

Yes, Wisconsin’s program continues to pull away from Nebraska’s.

So, what’s the trick here?

The Badgers pull away while simultaneously pounding away like a battering ram. At least that was the case on this night. Yeah, wonderful timing. Just wonderful. Nebraska honored its 1997 national championship team in a rousing pregame ceremony. That would be the Husker team that averaged 392.7 rushing yards to lead the nation. That would be the team that would dare you to stop the run because it knew you couldn’t do it.

That was Wisconsin on this gorgeous Saturday night.

The ninth-ranked Badgers rushed for 353 yards, their most in a road game since 2012.

Wisconsin simply did what Wisconsin does. It patiently imposed its will with its ground attack and hit an occasional big play through the air. Nebraska hung tough through most of three quarters, but soon the effects of UW’s body blows began to show.

In the fourth quarter, the Badgers rushed 22 times for 125 yards — and never attempted a pass.

The whole stadium knew a run play was coming, and it didn’t much matter.

The Nebraska run defense that held down Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Illinois was overmatched.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a former Husker linebacker, had to be sitting back with a wide grin. This is his blueprint. It’s recruit big and ornery linemen from Wisconsin or regions nearby and go to work. You can imagine the rugged nature of the Badgers’ practices. Facing a downhill running game every day will make a defense leather-tough.

Wisconsin’s ground attack is persistent and powerful, said Nebraska coach Mike Riley, whose record at NU dropped to 18-14.

He had his team ready for the game. Give him that. At times, Nebraska looked ready to win, particularly when junior safety Aaron Williams’ pick-six tied it at 17 with 10:43 remaining in the third quarter. The stadium was up for grabs. What a scene.

“(The Badgers’) response to that was pretty interesting,” Riley said. “And it was very physical.”

Wisconsin responded like a championship program — except for one thing. The Badgers were sloppy most of the night. On the kickoff following Williams’ touchdown, UW was flagged for two penalties, and thus began the possession at its 7-yard line.

No problem. Wisconsin bulldozed a 10-play, 93-yard touchdown drive, using eight runs, including six by true freshman Jonathan Taylor. On the night, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder carried 25 times for a season-high 249 yards and two touchdowns.

Forgive Nebraska fans if they were a tad envious.

And forgive them if they’re frustrated with the direction of Riley’s program.

He realizes what he’s going to hear in the days ahead. It will go something like this: Look at Wisconsin, winning big the way Nebraska used to win big.

Come to think of it, there’s nothing magic about a big offensive line pulverizing you. …

Nebraska always talks about recruiting. Nebraska wins the offseason with a formidable hype machine, with media playing a leading role.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin just keeps winning the West.

Consider this: Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, replaced by Gary Andersen, who left after two seasons for Oregon State to replace Mike Riley, who left for Nebraska. The results:

  • Bielema, who left UW to have a better chance of winning national championships, seems likely to be fired.
  • A Badger fan flew into the Portland, Ore., airport, where he was asked if he was from Wisconsin. When he said he was, he was asked, “Would you like your coach back?”
  • Riley was hired by athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who was fired last week. Don Mor(t)on can tell you that when the guy who hired you gets fired, you should probably update your résumé.

Meanwhile, the Badgers are undefeated and ranked seventh.

The following afternoon, the Packers inexplicably missed two extra points and thus trailed Dallas 21–12 at the half.

The Dallas Morning News’ Jon Machota skips ahead to the finish:

You’ve already seen it, but Aaron Rodgers did it again. He ripped the Cowboys’ hearts out in the final seconds Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
Here are my thoughts on the Cowboys blowing another halftime lead, this time falling to the Packers 35-31:
1. Well, that was exactly what the Cowboys didn’t need heading into the bye week, another blown impressive start. These are the types of games the Cowboys were winning at this time last year. The defense had some success getting pressure on Rodgers early, but then he just toyed with them in the second half. …
2. The third quarter was another disaster for the Cowboys. After going into halftime with a 21-12 lead, Dallas was held scoreless in the third quarter for the fourth time in five games. Not sure what’s going on at halftime, but the Cowboys continue to need at least 15 minutes to get things going again. Maybe just keep the guys on the sideline at halftime. Mix it up. The Cowboys only had the ball one time in the third quarter. Dak Prescott completed a short third-down pass to Dez Bryant, but that drive quickly stalled. Green Bay dominated the time of possession [11:20 to 3:32] and scored early in the fourth quarter to take its first lead, 22-21.

Machota’s colleague Kate Hairopoulos adds:

Dak Prescott faked the handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott, found himself with a clear path to the end zone, and took it. The Cowboys quarterback charged 11 yards for the touchdown and celebrated with a scream and a spike of the ball.
But the elation in AT&T Stadium belied the unease on the Dallas sideline.
1:13 remained.
For Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that’s an eternity.
And it was ultimately too much time, as Green Bay marched down the field, down three, and scored the winning touchdown. The Packers even had 11 seconds to spare when they went up 35-31.
“The minute that we got it, I immediately went to ‘Oh hell, he’s got a minute, 10 seconds,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Prescott’s touchdown and the ball going back to Rodgers. “On the other hand, – Dak Prescott faked the handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott, found himself with a clear path to the end zone, and took it. The Cowboys quarterback charged 11 yards for the touchdown and celebrated with a scream and a spike of the ball.
But the elation in AT&T Stadium belied the unease on the Dallas sideline.
1:13 remained.
For Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that’s an eternity.
And it was ultimately too much time, as Green Bay marched down the field, down three, and scored the winning touchdown. The Packers even had 11 seconds to spare when they went up 35-31.
“The minute that we got it, I immediately went to ‘Oh hell, he’s got a minute, 10 seconds,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Prescott’s touchdown and the ball going back to Rodgers. “On the other hand, before [Prescott] got it, I thought, ‘Just go ahead and get this score. OK!
“…You can second guess every little aspect of it, and certainly we’d have liked to give him the ball back with 10 seconds on the clock, no timeouts. But the only way to have really gotten that done is to know for sure we were going to get that touchdown. That’s the height of revisiting.”
And it’s impossible not to do, considering Rodgers is making a habit of crushing Cowboys’ souls when given any opening.
The Cowboys and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan milked the clock on the scoring drive, well aware of what Rodgers is capable of. He needed only 35 seconds left to lead the Packers to the winning field goal in January’s playoff game on this field last season.

The Cowboys ticked through 17 plays to go 79 yards, taking up 8:43, culminating in Prescott’s touchdown run.
But Linehan and head coach Jason Garrett will be fairly criticized for not consuming more clock.
Elliott and the offensive line had, finally, started to roll on the ground, yet:
On 1st and 10 from the Green Bay 29, Prescott threw a pass intended for running back Alfred Morris, but it was incomplete, stopping the clock.
Later, after a dramatic fourth-and-1 conversion by Elliott, Elliott ran for eight yards on first down to set up a second and 2 from the Packers 11. Prescott passed incomplete, unable to connect with receiver Dez Bryant in the back of the end zone, stopping the clock again.
Prescott scored on the next play. Should he have considered sliding at the 1 to take up more time?
“In theory, he could do that yes,” Garrett said. “I just think you have to be careful about trying to be perfect. It’s hard to score points in this league. It’s hard to score touchdowns. It’s a four-point game at that time. There’s no guarantee you’re going to score a touchdown there, so I think, in that particular case, he did the right thing.”
Said Prescott: “You’re playing with fire doing that. Those guys get paid on defense too. If you’re running down and you’re trying to get to third down, you’re wasting the time. It’s a slippery slope. For us, it’s important to get in the end zone and put the pressure on them. I’m going to trust my defense.”
But Jones did allow that the discussion it’s impossible not to have is whether the Cowboys should’ve bet on their strength — their offense — instead of ultimately put the game back in the hands of the defense that couldn’t stop Rodgers and Co. most of the day.
Jones said he believed Rodgers could lead the Packers to a field goal to tie the score, but thought the defense would keep them from a winning touchdown.
“We are all going to second guess on what happened at the end of the game and keeping the ball away from them a little bit more,” Jones said. “Everything speaks for itself here. You give Rodgers a minute, and you’re more than likely going to get a score in a critical moment.
“…All we wanted to do was keep the ball away from [Rodgers] but we needed to score a touchdown. We’ll be second guessing those last two calls for a long time.”

The News’ Samantha Pell describes the last play:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was going to call another play.

Instead of the game-winning back-shoulder touchdown throw to receiver Davante Adams with 16 seconds left in the game, he was going to look another way.

If he did, the outcome of the game — a 35-31 Packers win over the Cowboys — could have been a lot different. But Adams, who had had the ball knocked away on the exact same call on the previous play, wasn’t going to let that happen.

“I came back and let him know,” said Adams, who scored two touchdowns Sunday afternoon after getting knocked out of the Packers’ game last week against Chicago. “I said, ‘Do it again. Let’s go back to it.’ He gave me a look. I said, ‘Let’s do it again.'”

And as Rodgers tossed a “perfect ball” into the outstretched arms of Adams in the end zone, the Cowboys faithful saw flashbacks to the team’s 34-31 playoff loss to Green Bay in January — when Packers kicker Mason Crosby nailed a 51-yard field goal as time expired.

“We’ve been through that before,” Adams said. “We’ve been through that before in this building. When you’ve got ’12’ (Rodgers) back there, it allowed you to be a little more calm.”

Trailing 31-28 with 1:13 to play, Rodgers needed a field goal to tie, not win the game as he did last season. But regardless, Rodgers said afterward he was thinking of a touchdown the entire time.

“We had time,” a nonchalant Rodgers said of driving his offense 75 yards down the field in just over a minute.

Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was defending Adams on the game-winning touchdown catch, praised Rodgers’ play.

“He’s a great quarterback, has great weapons around,” Lewis said. “We have to stop him. I didn’t.”

In Rodgers’ execution of the offense downfield in the waning minute, he also had a crucial third-down scramble — in classic Rodgers fashion.

Facing third and 8 on the Dallas 30-yard line with 29 seconds to go, Rodgers said he had a good play called for the situation, but bad leverage on the backside forced him to scramble.

He found daylight on the left side of the field, running for 18 yards before stepping out of bounds at the 12-yard line. The next play was the incomplete pass to Adams in the end zone. The one after? The game-winner.

“Once I was able to get loose, it was about getting the first down and getting out of bounds,” Rodgers said. “My eyes got kind of big there for a second, as I tried to get back inside, but going out of bounds was a smart play, and it gave us a chance to get a shot in the end zone.”

Of course, postgame social media was almost as entertaining as the game:

Shannon Sharpe tweeted:

Can someone check on @RealSkipBayless for me? Want to make sure he’s ok


Postgame schadenfreude, Da (dirty) Bears Still Suck edition

Once again, it is time following a Packers win to observe the reaction from the opposing camp.

Last night’s 35–14 Packers lightning-delayed win over Da Bears generated 10 thoughts from the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs, including …

1. The undoing of Mike Glennon is going to be the turnovers. When you heard coach John Fox talk about the quarterback position and reference the kind of play the organization got from the three-headed monster it had at the position a year ago, he was talking about the interceptions that put the Bears in a tough spot. Well, at 1-3 right now and chasing in the NFC North, the Bears are in a jam as Glennon has turned the ball over eight times (five interceptions, three fumbles). It’s not about throwing the ball downfield and stretching the defense and check-down passes and all of the other topics that have been raised. It’s about protecting the football. Passing yardage isn’t a very useful statistical tool when it comes to determining the outcome of a game. Turnover margin is one of the best statistical tools and once again the Bears are getting hammered in that category. The Bears and Packers are the only teams to complete four games and we’ll see what the chart looks like at the end of the weekend but right now the Bears are, you guessed it, 32nd in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-7. The Bengals and Browns, who do battle Sunday in the Battle of Ohio, are each minus-5. Maybe one of them will have a particularly unsightly game and that will move the Bears out of 32nd. The point is the turnovers can’t happen for a team with slim margin for error. …

Glennon needed to get the ball out of his hand quicker on the first turnover, the sack by Clay Matthews. Glennon executed a play fake and was looking to take a deep shot downfield on the first snap of the game. The Bears asked tight end Dion Sims to solo block Clay Matthews. That seems like an unnecessarily risky maneuver right off the bat and it didn’t work. The fumble that resulted when a shotgun snap went off Glennon’s shin was the result of poor communication between him and center Cody Whitehair. When I talked to Whitehair, he told me the snap was on two and he was at fault for snapping it too soon. Glennon said they were both at fault. It was hard to see what went wrong on the first interception intended for Markus Wheaton but the ball wasn’t close. It appeared like Deonte Thompson ran a particularly poor route on the second interception.

This is precisely what the Bears hoped to avoid this season.

2. I would have concern that the wide receiver position is so undermanned that Trubisky has little chance to be successful if the Bears do make a change at quarterback. Unless he’s the next coming of Aaron Rodgers, who sat for the first three seasons of his career, Trubisky will have a difficult time making a go of it with the wide receivers on the roster. He’s not a magic fix for what ails the passing game. After giving this some consideration, and four games into the season is enough consideration, I think it’s fair to say this is the worst crop of receivers the Bears have had in an awful long time. For a couple weeks I’ve been weighing the 2011 group, which wasn’t good. Now that we’re at the quarter point of the season, I think it’s a fair call. That group had Johnny Knoxaverage 19.6 yards per reception even though he caught only 37 balls. The rest of the group included Roy Williams, Dan Sanzenbacher, Devin HesterEarl Bennettand of course, Sam Hurd.

The Bears knew when training camp opened that they did not have an optimal group of wide receivers and that it would be a challenge. Cameron Meredith and Kevin White were injured and now they’re looking at a real problem such that I think it’s going to be difficult for Trubisky to perform. They’re not going to suddenly run better routes because a different quarterback is in the game. The absolute worst thing that can happen to the Bears is they send Glennon to the bench because of the turnovers and insert Trubisky and then he struggles badly because, in part, the skill position talent around him is deficient. That would be disastrous. You just have doubts about what this group can accomplish and Wheaton now had two games under his belt but 0 catches. Everyone calling for Trubisky to play needs to realize this group is a very significant part of the issues plaguing the passing game and the offense as a whole.

So do you push Trubisky into action because Glennon has been a major problem? Is the one extra practice the Bears will have with the “mini-bye” as coach Fox alluded to going to make much of a difference? It’s not just dropped passes through four games that are on the wide receivers. It’s interceptions too.

3. If the Bears are extremely lucky, the NFL will only fine linebacker Danny Trevathan for the brutal head shot on Packers wide receiver Davante Adams. The fear has to be Trevathan will be suspended by the NFL for an egregious shot that sent Adams to the hospital. It used to be that suspensions were reserved for repeat offenders, a category that does not include Trevathan. However, the NFL passed a rule change this year that illegal hits to the head can be considered for suspension. Considering the NFL has an image issue with player safety and considering this game was nationally broadcast and considering that hit was just plain awful, I think Trevathan could be suspended by the league here. Safety Adrian Amos had stopped Adams’ forward progress when Trevathan arrived at full speed, driving his helmet into Adams’ facemask.

“I regret just the level I hit him at,” Trevathan said. “I could have been a little better. But you have to understand I was (gathering) momentum and I was just trying to make a play. Nothing intentional. It happens in this game.

“I don’t think it should be a suspension. But you never know. I’m going to send a prayer out. My main concern is that he’s OK. It was bad. I never wish that on anybody. Especially after being hurt (myself) a few times, I know how that is. And especially with the head and the neck, you never wish that on anybody. You never want to see that.”

The good news is the Packers had positive reports on Adams late Thursday night. Trevathan doesn’t have a reputation for being a dirty player but this hit crossed the line and it would not be surprising to see the league suspend him.

4. The Bears really had a shot to win this game. Consider Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga were both sidelined. Green Bay’s top two reserve tackles were already on injured reserve so they effectively started center Corey Linsley and four guards. Add in the fact that defensive tackle Mike Daniels, their best player on that side of the ball was out, and you have another advantage for the Bears. Then consider that running back Ty Montgomery was knocked out of the game on the opening series with what has been reported to be broken ribs and the Packers were very shorthanded. The Bears should have created more problems for their offense but Green Bay came out and ran the ball right at the Bears. I think that set the tone for the entire game. Five of the first six plays were runs by Montgomery to gain 28 yards and then Rodgers opened things up a little bit. The Bears’ pressure amounted to two sacks, one for Leonard Floyd and one for Pernell McPhee. It was good for Floyd to break through for his first one of the season but this was a complete rag-tag assembly on the offensive line and the Bears did nothing to take advantage of it.

“We got outcoached, we got outplayed in every area,” Fox said.

I asked McPhee if the Bears expected to cause more havoc for the Packers.

“Yeah, we did,” McPhee said. “But we know Aaron Rodgers. He wasn’t going to let us do that. If you watch it, two seconds, he was catching it, slinging it. He’s a great quarterback. He made adjustments. He did sprint outs, all types of stuff to slow us down.”

5. Week 4 is the first time the Bears got the offensive line set as Josh Sittonreturned after missing a week with a broken rib. Sitton lined up at left guard and Kyle Long played right guard, where he was last week against the Steelers. You will recall the plan hatched early in the offseason was to have the guards swap positions. Clearly, the Bears have shelved that for right now and for good reason. …

8. Roberto Aguayo isn’t the answer, I think the Bears learned that. But Connor Barth isn’t going to be able to miss many more kicks before the team explores some options there. Barth was wide right from 47 yards and that’s the same distance he missed wide right last week against the Steelers. Barth is 2 for 4 on the season and he coaches are comfortable with him but they’re not going to put up with many more misses. Who knows? Maybe they take a look at a few legs in the next week or so.

9. Talk about a white flag possession. That’s one what former Bears assistant coach said — that the Bears are waving the white flag — after a 15-play, 75-yard drive that took 8 minutes, 59 seconds off the clock in the fourth quarter. Jordan Howard scored on a 3-yard run, but it was an extra methodical drive that started after the Bears fell behind 35-7. I chalk that up to Fox knowing his turnover-prone offense wasn’t going to strike for four touchdown in the fourth quarter. But there was some reaction on Twitter about it and one former coach was wondering the exact same thing. That’s the pitfall of playing poorly in prime time. The other 31 teams see you. …

10c. Too many Packers uncovered too often in this one. How is Jordy Nelson uncovered in the end zone? That’s got to be cleaned up on defense. Imagine if that happened in a close game.

Quarterback play (or lack thereof)

On Sept. 20, 1992, Brett Favre, for whom the Packers had traded one of their two first-round picks in that year’s NFL draft, replaced injured starting quarterback Don Majkowski.

You know what happened thereafter.

Favre, now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was replaced at quarterback by Aaron Rodgers, who someday will join Favre in the Hall of Fame.

Except for games where Rodgers was kept out due to injury in 2010 and 2013 (six starts by Matt Flynn — one of which was a coach’s decision in 2011 — plus two starts by Scott Tolzien and one start by Seneca Wallace), Favre or Rodgers have been the starting Packer quarterbacks for 25 years.

In contrast, here is the list of other NFC North teams’ starting quarterbacks since 1992:

Da Bears (one Super Bowl appearance since 1992): Jim Harbaugh, Peter Tom Willis, Will Furrer, Steve Walsh, Erik Kramer, Dave Krieg, Rick Mirer, Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Henry Burris, Kordell Stewart, Rex Grossman, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, Kyle Orton, Brian Griese, Jay Cutler, Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie, Josh McCown, Jason Campbell, Jimmy Clausen, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley.

Detroit (zero Super Bowl appearances): Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer, Andre Ware, Scott Mitchell, Dave Krieg, Don Majkowski, Charlie Batch, Frank Reich, Gus Frerotte, Stoney Case, Ty Detmer, Mike McMahon, Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper, Matthew Stafford, Drew Stanton, Shaun Hill.

Minnesota (zero Super Bowl appearances since 1976): Rich Gannon, Wade Wilson, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper, Todd Bouman, Spergon Wynn, Gus Frerotte, Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, Brett Favre (who?), Joe Webb, Christian Ponder, Donovan McNabb, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Shaun Hill.

Fans of NFC North teams think Da Bears have the historically worst quarterback situation. Back in 2007, when Grossman was about to be replaced, Keith Olbermann called Da Bears’ “Quarterblackhole” (as I saw on social media last week) “one of the NFL’s great unrecognized traditions. With brief interruptions of stability from the likes of Jim McMahon and Billy Wade, this job has been unsettled since Sid Luckman retired. There has always been a Rex Grossman, he has always underperformed, and they have always been about to replace him.” About six interceptions from now Bears fans will be screaming to get Glennon out, and six interceptions later they’ll be screaming to get Trubisky out.

But it’s not been much better in Minnesota or Detroit during the Favre/Rodgers era either. Stafford is now the NFL’s highest paid player. His career record as a starting quarterback is 51–58. After Bridgewater got hurt the Vikings used a first-round draft pick to get Bradford, and ended up missing the playoffs last year. Da Bears spent big money to get Mike Glennon from Tampa Bay, then used a number-one draft choice to draft Mitch Trubisky. As is the case with teams with bad quarterback situations, the most popular Bear or Viking is probably whoever is their backup quarterback.

It’s  amusing to note how many quarterbacks played for more than one Packer divisional opponent (Kramer, Krieg, Frerotte, McMahon, Culpepper and Hill) with non-positive results, as well as the number of ex-Packer quarterbacks (Burris, Majkowski and Favre) twice-yearly opponents tried out and failed with.

Packer fans should remember this wasn’t the way things used to be. Between Super Bowl II and Favre’s first Packer season, the Packers used Bart Starr, Zeke Bratkowski, Don Horn, Scott Hunter, Jerry Tagge, Jim Del Gaizo, Jack Concannon, John Hadl, Don Milan, Lynn Dickey, Carlos Brown (who later became actor Alan Autry), Randy Johnson, David Whitehurst, Randy Wright, Jim Zorn, Alan Risher (the 1987 NFL strike replacement QB), Anthony Dilweg, Blair Kiel and Mike Tomczak.

Hadl was procured in the infamous “Lawrence Welk” trade, where the Packers traded “a-one and-a-two and-a-three” (actually, five draft picks to get Hadl and a player and two more draft picks to get rid of Hadl). That fits in every list of the worst trades in NFL history.

I’m predicting a 10–6 season for the Packers, whose schedule starts out pretty tough. I hope the free-agent acquisitions shore up last season’s leaky defense. Regardless of their record, though, as with Badger fans, Packer fans need to realize they have it much better here than elsewhere in the NFC North.


The departure of Packer fans’ favorite non-Packer

The Chicago Tribune reports:

The Jay Cutler era in Chicago is officially over.

After eight seasons, the Bears have shown their hand and their desire to start a new chapter at quarterback, releasing Cutler on Thursday. The move comes in conjunction with the team’s push to sign free-agent Mike Glennon. …

The Cutler news registers as significant but not surprising. All assumptions coming out of last season had been that the Bears likely would move in a new direction at the most important position on their roster. And now they are set to do so, closing the back cover on an era that had flashes of promise but never reached the heights many thought it could.

Cutler made 102 regular-season starts over his eight seasons in Chicago, rewriting the franchise record books for passing. He became the Bears’ career leader in completions, completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes and quarterback rating. Yet he will also be defined by his inconsistency and inability to carry the Bears on a sustained run of success.

Cutler committed 139 turnovers during his time in Chicago and helped the Bears to the playoffs only once — at the end of his second season in 2010. He also missed 25 starts because of injuries — and one because of a benching — during his Bears career.

Cutler missed the final six games of the 2011 season after breaking his right thumb and watched the Bears nose-dive from 7-3 and in the thick of playoff contention to 8-8 and a third-place division finish.

Cutler suffered multiple injuries last season, first missing five starts with a sprained thumb on his throwing hand. He later suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder in a road loss to the Giants. That setback turned out to be season-ending and offered an unceremonious conclusion to Cutler’s tenure with the Bears.

Which means no more of this:

Jay Jay the Interception Machine threw a number of passes that combined bad mechanics with not looking where you’re throwing. But is Cutler to blame for playing with bad receivers (the best of whom, Alshon Jeffery, is leaving for Philadelphia), a poor offensive line and a defense that often played like the Misfits of the Midway? With a better team, he might have had better results. Without a better team, Glennon, the latest horse on the Bears’ historical Merry-Go-Round of quarterbacks, is unlikely to do any better.



A Wisconsin voice from the past

If you are old enough to remember the Glory Years Packers, the answer to the question of who was the Packers’ announcer those years might be Ray Scott, from CBS-TV.

Unless you missed their home games on TV because you lived near Green Bay or Milwaukee in the old NFL blackout days, in which case the answer might be radio announcer Ted Moore:

And if you’re not old enough to remember Moore, surely you remember Jim Irwin:

Before Moore, who started announcing Packers games in 1960, there was Mike Walden, who announced Badger, Packer and, on TV, Milwaukee Braves games. One of Walden’s games was the 1963 Rose Bowl, which he announced on the NBC radio broadcast with USC announcer Tom Kelly:

Apparently Walden liked southern California, because he then left Wisconsin and moved to California, replacing Kelly on radio while Kelly moved to TV.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

USC’s broadcaster Mike Walden was in enemy territory when the Trojans’ basketball team finally handed UCLA its first loss at Pauley Pavilion in 1969. When it was over, Walden climbed atop the announcer’s table and yelled, “The Trojans win! The Trojans win! The Trojans win!” much like the legendary Harry Caray.

So Walden lost a few friends several years later when he took a job across town and became the only person to serve as the broadcast voice for both USC and UCLA.

“But Mike Walden was a journalist first, and did not want to be known as a homer,” his son, Gregory Walden, reminisced in an email.

Walden, a Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame member best known for his coverage of the Trojans and Bruins, and for his loud sport coats, died Sunday at his home in Tarzana from complications related to a stroke, his son said Thursday. He was 89.

The interesting thing about the aforementioned Walden, Kelly (who died in June), Enberg, Miller and longtime Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn is that they all grew up in the Midwest. Kelly’s first radio job was in Janesville, and though he started broadcasting for USC in 1962, he returned to Illinois for years to broadcast the Illinois state boys basketball tournament. Miller was one of the two UW hockey radio announcers (two stations broadcasted games until Clear Channel purchased both stations). Enberg is from Michigan, graduated from Central Michigan University, and earned a Ph.D. at Indiana while announcing its games before he too headed west. (Hmmm … do I know anyone who grew up in Wisconsin and then headed to California …) Hearn, who grew up in Illinois, preceded Kelly (for one season) at USC, and once worked with Kelly on the Illinois state tournament.


Aaron Rodgers and the miracles

The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay starts writing about phobias, then says …

Me? I’m terrified of Aaron Rodgers.

Seriously. Who isn’t scared of Rodgers at this point? Besides exuberant Green Bay Packers cheeseheads, that is. The most frightening thing left in these NFL playoffs isn’t the Atlanta Falcons or the Pittsburgh Steelers or even Grumpy Bill Belichick’s New England Patriot Dance Machine, but a scruffy, solitary 33-year-old quarterback.

Rodgers. If my team is alive, I don’t want any part of him.

Consider Sunday’s thrilling Green Bay victory over Dallas. This thing was setting up to be a Cowboys comeback for the ages: the Packers racing to a 21-3 early lead, and then Dallas rallying to tie it late, led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

When Rodgers took to the field deep in Packers territory in the closing minute, he noticed what he had left to work with:

35 seconds.

“There’s too much time left on the clock,” Rodgers said later.

Too much time!

Here a brief list of things I cannot do in 35 seconds or less:

1. Put on both shoes.

2. Find my keys.

3. Log into my company email.

4. Decide if I want hash browns (which is weird, because I always want hash browns.)

5. Dress my kids for a snowstorm (I also cannot do this in 35 years or less.)

But 35 seconds is plenty enough for Rodgers to help his team win a football game, as it turns out. Even after a crushing Dallas sack (how did Rodgers not fumble?) left Green Bay with a third-and-20 from its own 32. It was enough time for a rolling Rodgers to locate tight end Jared Cook, who brilliantly tiptoed on the sideline’s edge and pulled in a 36-yard completion. It was enough for Mason Crosby—and let’s hear it for Mason Crosby, a historic performance, kicker man—to come on for 51-yard field goal, and that was that.

Another Aaron Rodgers Green Bay epic in the book.At this point, it’s absurd, expected. When you play Rodgers, you don’t really play him. You’re at his mercy. I don’t want to use some cliché like “standard rules of space and time don’t apply” but it’s true: standard rules of space and time do not apply. If you give him a few seconds, he’s good. If you give him one play from his own side of the field, he’s good.
Which leads us to the Hail Marys. Rodgers is to Hail Marys what Steph Curry is to midcourt 3-pointers. It’s a fluky thing for everyone else. For them, not so much.

Ask yourself: If it’s your team, do you want to watch Aaron Rodgers heave a Hail Mary in the closing seconds of the half?

I don’t need an answer, because I know it. If you’re on the other sideline, a Rodgers Hail Mary is absolutely terrifying. Ask the New York Giants.

The Packers are a quirky kind of headache. They are probably the most imperfect team left in the NFL postseason. They have a depleted roster, especially on defense. After that early deficit, Dallas was able to move the ball rather easily on both the ground and in the air. Rodgers is without his best receiver, Jordy Nelson, who suffered broken ribs against the Giants in the Wild-Card round (it isn’t clear if Nelson will be back for the NFC title game.)

Green Bay’s flaws aren’t news. The Packers began their 2016 season 4-6, on the outside of the playoff picture, with chatter swirling about head coach Mike McCarthy’s job status and Rodgers’s diminished effectiveness. He isn’t the same, was the prevailing criticism.

That’s when Rodgers suggested that the Packers might be able to “run the table,” win their final six games and get a playoff spot. Which is a rather brash thing to predict. And it’s exactly what Green Bay did.

I’m assuming Atlanta was happy the Packers won Sunday—it means another home game for them, a championship closer for the Georgia Dome. The Falcons were impressive in handling Seattle on Saturday.

And yet this also means facing Rodgers in a climate-controlled environment. I always assume that when great quarterbacks from harsh-weather outdoor stadium teams get to domes, they turn into giddy free-range chickens. They think: This is amazing! I can’t believe people get to play here! I can feel my fingers!

It certainly felt that way for much of Sunday’s game in AT&T Stadium. It will probably feel that way for portions of next Sunday’s. Packers fans can’t wait. Aaron Rodgers is on the loose. The rest of us should be hiding behind the couch.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King delves further into Sunday’s remarkable finish (with NFL Films video here):

This happened in the last five minutes:

5:00 left, fourth quarter: Green Bay 28, Dallas 20. Cowboys driving, but even if the kid quarterback, Dak Prescott, can score here, he’ll still need a two-point conversion to tie, and have a prayer of extending the game.

4:17 left: The kid squeezes a seven-yard TD pass into Dez Bryant on a short post route. The kid executes a quarterback draw well, but Packers linebacker Jake Ryan corrals him around the 1. Prescott’s will, and his body, barrel across the goal line. Prescott has brought Dallas all the way back from a 21-3 deficit against the great Aaron Rodgers. Two facts here. One: No rookie quarterback has thrown three touchdown passes in a playoff game in the past 50 years, and now Prescott has. Two: Prescott’s ridiculously good. Tie, 28-28.

2:00 left: Rodgers throws an ill-advised pick (that is the last time in this column you will read “Ill-advised” and “Rodgers” in the same sentence) to Dallas safety Jeff Heath … but wait. Rookie corner Anthony Brown gets called for pass interference for hooking Ty Montgomery early in his route. Iffy call, but watching it six more times Tuesday, it’s the right one. Brown hooked him and interfered with his route. Jason Garrett doesn’t like the call. Why would he?

1:33 left: Mason Crosby ambles onto the field to try the longest playoff field goal of his career–56 yards. He’s made 21 straight playoff field goal. His last miss: a 50-yarder he shtoinked off the left upright six years ago to the day in Atlanta. He boots a low, half-knuckleball liner that’s eight feet above the crossbar, just inside the right upright. Rodgers shows more glee on the sidelines than he ever shows after a TD pass, punching the air violently. Green Bay, 31-28.

0:49 left: Who exactly is the rookie here? Prescott to Terrence Williams for 24 up the gut. Prescott on a cross to Jason Witten for 11. First down, Packer 40. And then Prescott does something that looks stupid in the moments after the game. He spikes the ball. Odd, because the Cowboys have one timeout left, an incredibly reliable kicker (Dan Bailey), and they’re five to seven yards from a low-risk field goal in the weatherless stadium. If they’re playing for the tie and overtime, they should let the clock run. If they’re playing to win it right here, they’ll need that down they just gave away. Sure enough, Prescott throws a seven-yard out to Cole Beasley … clock stops … and Nick Perry bats down a pass at the line … clock stops … and it’s fourth down. What have the Cowboys done? Have they left enough time for Rodgers to score?

0:35 left: Bailey, with the easiest-looking 52-yard field goal in world history. Rodgers confers with Randall Cobb on the Green Bay sideline. I am guessing he might have said, “Can you believe they spiked it and left us enough time to win?” Tie, 31-31.

0:21 left: There’s going to be parade down the center of the Saginaw Valley (Mich.) State campus for Jeff Heath after the season. The feisty safety bursts around left tackle on a blitz and nails Rodgers for a 10-yard loss, back to the Green Bay 32. Watching at home in Columbus, Ohio, a good pal of Rodgers’, A.J. Hawk, is shocked, like the rest of America, that Rodgers has the ball in his right hand, ready to throw, and doesn’t feel the rush at all. You can see it in his eyes on the replay. He had no idea anyone was coming. And boom! Heath levels him. “Man, how’d he hold onto that ball?” Hawk wondered Tuesday, when I interviewed him for The MMQB Podcast With Peter King. “When that happened and he held onto the ball, I said to my wife, ‘He’s going to make a deep throw to win it, right now.’” On replay, it’s more amazing. Heath’s sacking arm is within eight or 10 inches of the ball but never could find the target to punch out. But it’s moot anyway. Rodgers needs 33 yards to get into field position and has maybe two plays to do it. But …

0:18 left: The act of the sack isn’t even done, but Rodgers, after a total clock-cleaning and his head bouncing back and forth like a crash-test dummy’s, pirouettes up quickly and signals for Green Bay’s second timeout. There’s some presence of mind.

0:12 left: Sideline route to Cook. Excellent coverage by Dallas’ Byron Jones, who sticks his arm in to bat a perfect pass away. Incomplete.

Third-and-20, Green Bay 32. How many 35-yard completions against seven DBs you got on that playsheet, Mike McCarthy? Shotgun snap. Ty Montgomery as a sidecar. Three Cowboys rush.

0:11 left: Rodgers spins completely around to face the left sideline and begins a loop.

0:10 left: Rodgers takes his first look downfield. Guard Lane Taylor breaks away from the mosh pit at the lane to protect Rodgers, and here comes the only rusher with a chance, linebacker Justin Durant.

0:09 left: Taylor engages Durant, who tries to use his quickness to get around the guard. Nothing doing. Rodgers stops. He bounces once, looking downfield.

0:08 left: Cobb’s open, slightly, just past midfield, but not deep enough. Useless throw. Rodgers pumps and recoils, and then jogs three more steps to his left. At home watching in Minnesota is Rich Gannon, who knows Rodgers well. “This is the most difficult throw for a right-handed quarterback,” Gannon told me on the podcast Tuesday. “Going to his left, throwing right-handed.”

0:07 left: Rodgers, three yards from the left sideline, now has Durant coming into his vision. But here’s the important thing: Taylor did a terrific job slowing Durant long enough for Rodgers to release it. Rodgers reaches back while still moving left slightly, never stopping to set up, and he rears back to throw, and the ball leaves his hand. He’s got a prayer to hit Jared Cook 38 yards away. Hey, it’s probably overtime. Take a shot.

0:06 left: “I can make that throw 15, 18 yards,” Gannon said. This Rodgers throw passes midfield with juice on it. A line drive.

0:05 left: Cook, who took a long, looping route to the left sideline from the right tight end spot, sees the ball coming toward him. “I used to watch him on the flights back home when I was on the Rams,” Cook said, “and I’d think, ‘He’s a beast.’ Now I see him make these passes every day.” Like this one. Here it comes, and Cook knows he has to be mindful of his feet. Stay inbounds, feet.

0:04 left: Ball hits hands. Cook falling out of bounds. Feet close to stripe. Ball secured. Cook on ground. Gannon is wowed at home in Minnesota. “He put it in a 12-inch box!” Gannon says, awestruck.

0:03 left: Cook on ground. Out at the 33. Head linesman Jeff Bergman, 15 yards behind the play, immediately signals no catch. “Pass is incomplete, out of bounds,” Joe Buck says on TV. Side judge Rob Vernatchi, 11 yards in front of the play, staring at Cook’s feet, sprints toward the play, signaling it was a catch. Bergman and Vernatchi converge at the 32. Bergman slaps Vernatchi on the rear end, as if to say, “You had it. Good call.” Which it was. Perfect, decisive call by Vernatchi.

Troy Aikman in the booth: “Unbelieva–

Buck: “Unbelievable!”

Two minutes and 40 seconds later, ref Tony Corrente has the ruling.

Corrente: “After review, the ruling on the field of a completed pass is confirmed.”

0:00 left: Crosby, from 51 yards for the win, good! But wait, Dallas timeout. He has to do it again.

0:00 left: Crosby, from 51 yards for the win … jussssst inside the left upright. Good. Green Bay, 34-31.

Three 50-yard field goals in the last two minutes of a game has never happened. “Really it was four,” radio host Chris Russo said Tuesday. “He made the other one and Garrett called time.” Never mind Rodgers: How about the icy kickers?

But that throw.

“To fit that ball in there,” Gannon said. “Incredible.”

Rodgers is breathless, seemingly, when Erin Andrews gets him on the field. “I mean, it’s just kind of schoolyard at the time,” Rodgers tells him. And as our Robert Klemko tweeted after the game, Cobb told him that Rodgers made up each receiver’s pattern in the huddle before the play. That really makes the whole story better.

The world moves so fast. Slow it down this morning, and appreciate one of the best games we’ll ever see.

Rodgers has had an unbelievable postseason. Pick your own favorite:

Gay is unfortunately correct that the Packers might be the worst team left due to their somewhat porous defense thanks to all the defensive backfield injuries and their sort-of adequate running game. (But the worst of four is still better than the remaining 28 teams, including the previously number-one-seeded Cowboys.) Not having Jordy Nelson Sunday and possibly not having Davante Adams will make things even more difficult.

If you thought the Packer defense was tested by the Cowboys, consider that the Falcons were the top scoring team in the NFL this regular season, ahead of fourth-place Green Bay. On the other hand, if you think the Packers’ defense wasn’t very good this season (21st in scoring), the Falcons’ defense was worse (27th in scoring). Based on that betting the over in an over–under bet (which as of now is 61.5) seems appropriate. (For comparison purposes, the Cowboys were fifth in scoring offense and scoring defense.)

This will be the third straight week the Packers will play in the postseason someone they played in the regular season. They looked awful and lost to Dallas 27–16 (and the game wasn’t that close), and then two weeks later lost to Atlanta 33–32 on a touchdown with 31 seconds left. The Packers lost three more games after that, and haven’t lost since then.

This looks eerily similar to the 2010–11 postseason (which included a surprisingly large win over Atlanta), but history generally doesn’t repeat itself, and one feels like the Packers’ magic can’t continue. The NFL would love a Patriots–Packers Super Bowl, but I don’t think the Falcons are going to cooperate.

Postgame schadenfreude, How ’Bout Them Cowboys edition

Readers may have noticed I didn’t write much about the Packers–Cowboys NFC divisional playoff game before Sunday, and that’s because I thought the Packers didn’t have much chance of winning it.

I did not see the Cowboys going to the Super Bowl, because at some point a rookie quarterback and rookie running back hit a playoff wall. I was right about that, though I thought they’d lose in the NFC championship, not one week earlier.

Well, on this score I’m happy to be wrong. Thanks to an amazing catch by tight end Jared Cook …

… Mason Crosby’s 107 yards of fourth-quarter field goals sent the Cowboys to wherever they go for the offseason, 34–31, delighting all non-fans of Jerry Jones:

… along with the idiot sportsyakker Skip Bayless, who is more in the tank for the Cowboys than the Washington press corps was in the tank for Barack Obama. Bayless tweeted after the game:

More I see winning FG, more I see a very weird thing: It hooked hard left, then straightened out. Obviously no wind. Like meant to be.

Reportedly the Packers played the Cowboys’ “anthem,” Wiz Khalifa’s “We Dem Boys,” in the locker room afterward:

The Dallas Morning News’ Jon Maschota asks and answers:

1. What happened on the opening drive? 

The Cowboys were moving the ball, then threw on third and 2 and settled for a 50-yard Dan Bailey field goal. Why didn’t they run Ezekiel Elliott? Instead, Dak Prescott threw to a double-covered Dez Bryant. After that pass fell incomplete, why not run Zeke on fourth-and-2? Bailey gave the Cowboys the early 3-0 lead but Dallas basically played catch up from there on out. Yes, it was only the first possession. But I think it went a long way in setting the tone for the next three quarters. …

3. Misplaced blame

Some will blame the Cowboys going nearly a month without playing a meaningful game. I don’t think that was the reason for Sunday’s final score. They entered the fourth quarter down 28-13 and were within a few seconds of forcing OT. Rust wasn’t the reason for the loss, it was just great QB play by the opposing QB. No doubt, this is a disappointing end to a 13-3 season. They were talented enough to go to the Super Bowl. They didn’t. But a young QB, RB and O-line make this result feel much different than the one two years ago in Green Bay. …

5. Aaron Rodgers is unreal

I don’t know if anyone has ever played the quarterback position at a higher level than Aaron Rodgers played it for most of Sunday afternoon. He was nothing like the player the Cowboys saw in Week 6. He was basically flawless. Without Rodgers, I don’t know if the Packers would win more than five or six games. With him, they have a chance to win the Super Bowl.

Kevin Sherrington adds:

As the Cowboys found out Sunday at JerryWorld, the road to the Super Bowl doesn’t necessarily go through Corsicana, Buffalo and Huntsville.

Passes through Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and probably Tom Brady, as usual.

And as Rodgers spectacularly demonstrated in a 34-31 win before 93,396 fans who’d practically lifted the lid on the joint, that’s a more dangerous passage for this Cowboys defense, in particular. And no Buc-ee’s to break it up, either.

Forget the Rodgers who looked lost in the Cowboys’ 30-16 win at Lambeau back in October. This was vintage Rodgers, and the Cowboys couldn’t stop him early or late.

No sooner had Dak Prescott led the Cowboys on an improbable game-tying drive, Rodgers answered.


No Jordy Nelson? No problem. No Davante Adams? Ditto.

Rodgers went into the game without Nelson, his leading receiver. And he lost Adams on the Packers’ next-to-last drive.

But an unbelievable throw-and-catch from Rodgers to tight end Jared Cook as the latter was going out of bounds set up Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired.

You could argue that the Cowboys dug themselves a hole too deep in the first half, giving up three touchdowns to the Packers. The Cowboys’ defense couldn’t generate any pressure with a four-man front, and Rodgers picked the Cowboys apart.

Even when Rod Marinelli dialed up more blitzes in the second half, it still wasn’t enough with the game on the line.

Because with the game on the line, Rodgers is as good as they come. And that’s the problem getting to the Super Bowl in Houston. …

Dak showed signs late that he could go toe-to-toe with Rodgers, but that wasn’t the problem. The Cowboys’ offense answered. The defense didn’t.

Not against a quarterback on the level of Rodgers, which is what you get this time of year.