GREEN BAY—Mike McCarthy's first coaches challenge win of the season will become the biggest coaches challenge win of his career, should Aaron Rodgers find a way to limp through two more wins.
"Is that right? I was due," McCarthy said when informed that it was his first red-flag win in 2014. "It was a confident challenge."
Referee Gene Steratore's reversal of an apparent Dez Bryant reception at the Packers 1-yard line helped preserve a 26-21 win that sends the Packers back to where the season began with a 20-point loss. The Packers and Seahawks will meet in CenturyLink Field next Sunday for the NFC title and a berth in Super Bowl XLIX.
Reversal of Bryant's "catch" capped another dramatic performance by Rodgers. Playing with a painful calf injury for the third consecutive game, Rodgers threw for 316 yards, three touchdowns and a 125.4 passer rating. He came to life late in the third quarter in a 90-yard touchdown drive he capped with a 46-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Davante Adams that cut the Cowboys' lead to 21-20, and then Rodgers drove the Packers 80 yards the next time they had the ball, pitching the game winner to rookie tight end Richard Rodgers from 13 yards out.
Prior to those two drives, Rodgers spent much of the game in ineffectiveness. He struggled with a lack of mobility. He literally threw his first touchdown pass on one leg. At halftime, he had thrown for only 90 yards. It was looking bleak for the Packers when they trailed 21-13 late in the third quarter.
Why did Rodgers suddenly come to life?
"Maybe it's because I called better plays for him. I just felt once we opened things up and he was able to get into a rhythm, he played like Aaron Rodgers. It was an incredible performance, especially with what he's been through," McCarthy said.
Once he got into that rhythm, he was unstoppable. He even completed one of the most important passes of the game to the wrong receiver.
On third-and-11, with the Packers trying to kill the clock and seal the victory, Rodgers' pass for wide receiver Jarrett Boykin was deflected into the waiting arms of Randall Cobb.
First down! Game over!
What he's done in this stadium the last two games, with the condition of his calf, is spectacular," McCarthy said of Rodgers. "A great playoff victory. The game had everything you want to see in a football game."
Bryant's "catch" was reversed because he failed to control the ball through impact with the ground. Bryant went up over Sam Shields to catch the ball, but lost control of it when he reached it out for the goal line and the ball struck the ground.
It was the biggest play of the game. The Cowboys were facing a fourth-and-2 play at the Packers 32-yard line. Coach Jason Garrett nixed a field goal try and went for the win with 4:42 to play in the game.
"We went empty pressure and Tony (Romo) checked it and went to the one-on-one. Excellent throw and phenomenal catch. You could see it on the Jumbotron. I saw it three times before I threw the challenge flag. I just felt when he hit the ground he didn't complete the catch," McCarthy said.
"That was such an impactful play. You have to challenge that."
At that point, the Packers turned to their four-minute offense and the Cowboys never got the ball back.
"My intent was to run it and put the ball into Aaron's hand to convert," McCarthy said.
Twice, Rodgers converted third-down plays.
Can Rodgers score another dramatic win for the ages? This one would have to be against the roughest, toughest defense in the league, and in no less a sinister place than the Seahawks' home field.
"Looking forward to going back up to Seattle and I'm looking forward to winning the NFC championship," McCarthy said. COMPLETE GAME COVERAGE
Green Bay played Dallas in the postseason for the seventh time and the first time since 1996. Photos by Jim Biever, Packers.com.