GREEN BAY — Afterward, as the euphoria began to subside and Aaron Rodgers had answered all manner of questions about what just transpired, the Green Bay Packers quarterback thought about what it all meant.
“It felt like it was such a growth moment for us,” the 17-year veteran said of the Packers’ 30-28 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. “I’m really happy for the guys to feel that. And it feels like, ‘OK, now we’re on our way. Now we can get into this, now we know how to win, and we can get this thing moving in the right direction.’”
And it was all made possible by what the Packers — not Rodgers alone, but in concert with coach Matt LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, quarterbacks coach/offensive passing-game coordinator Luke Getsy, wide receiver Davante Adams and, of course, kicker Mason Crosby — had done during the final 37 seconds of the game, culminating in Crosby’s 51-yard walk-off game-winning field goal.
“What Aaron and that offense was able to do in 37 seconds, it does make it easy for me,” Crosby would say later. “I just go out there and do my job.”
While the veteran kicker who has made 22 straight field goal attempts dating back to last season might be underselling what he did in the clutch on Sunday night, what Rodgers & Co. did to put him in position was no less remarkable. And it could wind up being a defining moment in a season that began with a humbling, embarrassing defeat and still has miles to go on the path to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.
The seeds of the game-winning drive actually were planted late in the week at practice. During Thursday’s end-of-practice 2-minute drill, Rodgers and the No. 1 offense had run a play that Rodgers wanted to alter slightly.
What Rodgers wanted was for slot receiver Randall Cobb to run a post route that would draw the opposing safety away from Adams, his intended target. LaFleur said the play, in its original incarnation, had been designed by Getsy as part of the offense’s third-down package for a third-and-long situation, but after they conferred with their quarterback, they altered it and practiced it on Friday.
“We were afraid that, (as the play was designed), it could potentially bring a safety over,” LaFleur said. “We were actually calling it to throw it over on the other side, so we changed the route and changed the concept.”
So, seconds after 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk had crossed the goal line and kicker Robbie Gould had booted the extra point to give San Francisco a 28-27 lead, LaFleur, Getsy and Rodgers began discussing their options, scrolling through their mental Rolodexes of plays that could take them the requisite 38 yards in less than 37 seconds — with no timeouts to stop the clock — to get Crosby in reasonable range for a game-winning kick.
While they were huddling, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was worrying. He’d wanted to bleed more clock before getting the go-ahead score, but he couldn’t exactly blame Juszczyk for bowling over Packers safety Henry Black to get into the end zone.
“Yeah, you always worry with Aaron on the other side,” Shanahan later admitted. “We were hoping to take (the clock) down, but it was a hell of an effort by ‘Juice’ to get in.”Shanahan had reason to worry. Across the field, after a touchback put the ball at the Green Bay 25-yard line, LaFleur was suggesting to Rodgers that their altered play — “Something we actually worked on Friday at practice, kind of scribbling in the dirt,” is how Rodgers described it to NBC Sports after the win — might be the way to start the drive.
“We talked about it on the sideline, how potentially that could be a really good play for us,” LaFleur said. “And the guys went out there and executed.”
Added Rodgers: “Matty suggested it right before we went out. He said, ‘What do you think about this play?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I like that. I think that’d be pretty good.’
“No timeouts, from the 25, you need two chunk throws. I knew that. So that’s why I wasn’t going to ‘dink-and-dunk.’ You don’t have any time for that. We had to get at least 15 on the first play.”
They got 25. Cobb, lined up in the right slot, ran his altered post route and pulled safety Jimmie Ward downfield, creating a void in the middle of the field. Meanwhile Adams, who had lined up just outside of Cobb, ran his route, which started with him angling toward the right sideline before cutting across the field to that open space. Rodgers then delivered a strike just over linebacker Fred Warner’s reach, putting the ball at midfield.
“It worked out perfect,” Rodgers said.
With the Packers having hustled to the line of scrimmage, Rodgers spiked the ball to stop the clock with 20 seconds left. After throwing incomplete for Adams on the next play, the Packers faced a third-and-10 with 16 seconds remaining.
That’s when Rodgers and Adams, who had been briefly knocked from the game after a collision with Ward earlier in the fourth quarter, connected again for 17 more yards, and Adams immediately gave himself up, saving precious seconds. Rodgers spiked the ball again with 3 seconds left, then pumped his fist, almost as if he knew the game was in hand before Crosby even came onto the field.
“My first thoughts in devising how I wanted to get us into field goal range was, ‘How can I get 17 the ball?’” said Rodgers, who finished the game having completed 22 of 33 passes for 261 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 113.3.
“We’ve been doing this together for a long time now,” said Adams, who caught 12 passes for 132 yards and an earlier touchdown: “Those are the types of situations that we’re made for.”
Upon reviewing the film, LaFleur admitted Monday afternoon that Crosby’s game-winner was awfully close to being blocked by San Francisco’s Dontae Johnson, who was a split-second late after getting past Robert Tonyan’s block. “It was pretty close,” LaFleur said. “I thought Bobby did as well as he could have done on the edge. (Johnson) just got a really good jump on the snap and he made it close.” … LaFleur said wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who suffered a hamstring injury late in the game, would be scanned on Tuesday, leaving his status for this week’s game against Pittsburgh uncertain. … Players had Monday off after arriving home in Green Bay around 5 a.m. from their West Coast flight, and they’ll be off Tuesday as well. Wednesday’s practice will be more of a jog-through, after the players review the film from the win. “You always want to review the game tape, because there’s so much to learn from each experience out there,” LaFleur said. “So we’ll use a little portion of Wednesday morning to go over the game tape, and then we’ll flip the script and move on to Pittsburgh.”