What We Learned - In the First Half  

 

Packers beat Cowboys, advance to NFC title game

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Green Bay is just one step away from Super Bowl XLIX. Powered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his 316 yards through the air, the Packers overcame their first deficit at home since Week 2 to overtake the Dallas Cowboys 26-21 in Sunday's NFC Divisional Round showdown. Our takeaways:

1. The Cowboys once again find themselves at the heart of a massive officiating controversy after the zebras leaned on instant replay to overrule Romo's fourth-down strike to Dez Bryant in the final quarter -- a 31-yard rope that put Dallas at the Green Bay 1-yard line with under five minutes to go. With the Packers nursing a 26-21 lead, Rodgers and friends went on to drain the clock for the win. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino tweeted shortly after the game, "Bryant going to the ground. By rule, he must hold onto it throughout entire process of contacting the ground. He didn't, so it is incomplete." Decide for yourself:

2. Battling through the pain of a strained left calf, Rodgers -- for much of the game -- was a shadow of the MVP-worthy fireball we watched all season. The Packers quarterback missed on repeated shots downfield and operated gingerly in the pocket before heating up down the stretch. Dallas notched just one sack, but Rodgers is a different player when you take away his legs. A Jeremy Mincey strip-sack in the second quarter marked the first turnover for Rodgers in 887 snaps at home, dating back to Week 14 of the 2012 campaign. After throwing for just 90 yards in the first half, though, Rodgers looked good tossing back-to-back pretty touchdown strikes to Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers to regain the lead in the fourth quarter. Still, the tweaked calf is a concerning injury for the Packers -- one that isn't going away before next week's title-game showdown with the Seahawks.

3. Maligned for much of his career as a buffoon in big moments, Tony Romo can't be blamed for the loss. After Green Bay drew first blood with a fast-paced touchdown drive on their first possession, the Cowboys responded well with a 12-play, 62-yard scoring march of their own that saw Dallas stick to the script with DeMarco Murray on the ground. Outside of a lost fumble, the league's leading rusher was sensational in rushing for 123 yards on the day. When it came time to throw, Romo showed great confidence in connecting on 15 of 19 throws for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Playing through pain, Romo offered up a gritty performance that should silence his doubters.

4. The Packers came out of the gate with a steady focus on the run. Aiming to take the heat off his mobility-challenged quarterback, coach Mike McCarthy handed the ball to Eddie Lacy on seven of the team's first eight plays from scrimmage, leaning on the workhorse for 101 yards at 5.3 yards per clip out of a Pistol-heavy backfield. Lacy will need to be at his best against Seattle's outstanding run-stopping front.

5. The battle between Green Bay's wideouts and the Dallas secondary was fascinating. We called it the matchup to watch, and it didn't disappoint. While Packers wideout Jordy Nelson was held to just 22 yards against a Cowboys defense that employed plenty of nickel coverage, Randall Cobb got the best of cornerback Orlando Scandrick for 116 yards off eight grabs, while rookie Davante Adams -- who added 117 yards of his own -- exposed the Dallas secondary with his decleater of safety J.J. Wilcox on a third-quarter 46-yard touchdown catch

6. The Cowboys will regret a severe momentum swing before halftime that saw Dallas miss a 50-yard field goal with 34 seconds left, allowing Green Bay to put together a fast-flowing 38-yard drive capped by Mason Crosby's 40-yard field goal. Instead of going into the locker room up 17-7, Dallas saw the Packers cut the lead to 14-10.

7. Julius Peppers was used all over the formation and arguably made the play of the game with his third-quarter strip of Murray, who might have streaked into the end zone if Green Bay's ageless pass rusher hadn't caused the turnover.

8. Three cheers for Jason Witten. With Bryant held to just 38 yards off three catches, the Cowboys tight end led the team in targets and piled up 71 yards off six grabs. Fellow Dallas wideout Terrance Williams also stepped up with his clutch 38-yard catch-and-run for Romo's second touchdown pass of the day.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Divisional Round game and ranks the remaining quarterbacks still standing. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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