Sunday evening's Packers-Cowboys playoff game will go down as one of the great divisional-round matchups, a heavyweight battle between two blue-chip teams that provided some late-game drama. The final act included one of the best passes and catches you will ever see from Aaron Rodgers to Jared Cook, setting up a Mason Crosby field goal to give Green Bay a 34-31 victory.
But Rodgers probably shouldn't have had the opportunity to even make the throw, except the Cowboys served up a bunch of extra time on a platter for the Packers thanks to poor late-game management of the clock.
When Crosby blasted a 56-yard field goal to give Green Bay a 31-28 lead with 1:33 remaining, the Cowboys were in pretty good shape. Two timeouts, tons of time, a rookie quarterback with ice veins and a defense that turned into a complete sieve late. The Cowboys quickly moved the ball, with Dak Prescott picking up 35 yards on passes to Terrence Williams and Jason Witten.
The latter pass was over the middle and for a first down. Inexplicably, with one timeout remaining and 48 seconds on the clock, the Cowboys walked up to the line and spiked the ball.
The Packers defense is on its heels, the Cowboys are marching, there's tons of time left, Dallas was closing in on Dan Bailey's range for a field goal ... it made no sense to spike it. And everyone agreed.
No need for Dallas to spike ball after Witten first down catch. Put them behind chains and left time on clock after FG. Questionable— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) January 16, 2017
Don't get that decision to spike it. #Cowboys— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) January 16, 2017
Jason Garrett decision to spike the ball will be talked about all off season. Why waste a play vs a Packers that could not stop them???— michael lombardi (@mlombardiNFL) January 16, 2017
Bear in mind that Garrett never used his last timeout. That's because the Cowboys threw a short pass to Cole Beasley on the next play but he got out of bounds, stopping the clock and setting up third-and-3. The next play was an incomplete pass that was batted down by Nick Perry at the line of scrimmage.
Suddenly it's fourth down, Bailey's coming on the field for a long kick and there's too much time on the clock even if you make it. Bailey buried the kick, but Rodgers knew the score already.
What did Aaron Rodgers think when Dallas tied the game in final minute? Rodgers: "A little too much time on the clock."— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) January 16, 2017
Here's the thing about the spike, too: it stopped the clock, but it literally gave away a down for nothing. It was possible the idea behind stopping the clock was to regroup and get enough time to score, but giving away a first down when the offense was rolling is a huge mistake.
And ultimately it may have cost the Cowboys the game.