GREEN BAY, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Aaron Rodgers battled through pain to rally the Green Bay Packers to a thrilling 26-21 playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, sending them to the NFC title game to face defending Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks.
Rodgers, despite struggling with a calf injury, threw two touchdown passes in a row as Green Bay fought back from a 21-13 third-quarter deficit. He passed for three touchdowns and 317 yards for the game.
“His performance in the second half was as good as it gets,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
“What he has done in this stadium in the last two games with the conditions of his calf has been spectacular.”
The Cowboys though were left fuming about a controversial incompletion ruling late in the fourth quarter where instead of being at the Packers one-yard line after a brilliant Dez Bryant leap for a Tony Romo pass, they were forced to give Green Bay the ball back on downs.
Rodgers had struggled in the final two games of the regular season and the first signs that a two-week break had not allowed for a complete recovery of the calf came when the Packers took the lead on their first drive.
Rodgers looked to run with the ball but hobbling slightly, he spotted Andrew Quarless in the end zone with a four-yard pass.
“I feel like with my normal mobility I would have been able to just run that in,” said Rodgers. “The pain in my calf helped me make that decision very easily.”
Dallas struck back quickly with a pass interference penalty giving the Cowboys the ball at the one-yard line and Romo found fullback Tyler Clutts for his first career score.
The Cowboys scored again when Romo connected with Terrance Williams and the receiver raced into the end zone.
The Packers reduced the deficit to a point thanks to field goals on either side of halftime from Mason Crosby.
But with Rodgers lacking mobility, Dallas extended their advantage on a one-yard touchdown run from DeMarco Murray who had shown his electrifying speed with a 26-yard rush earlier in the drive.
Curiously, as time went on, Rodgers began to move better and he looked like his usual self when he moved out of the pocket, connecting with Davante Adams for a 46-yard touchdown pass to pull within one point.
When the Packers quarterback then found Richard Rodgers with a 13-yard go-ahead touchdown pass, the Lambeau Field crowd sensed victory.
Dallas, though, will lament that crucial fourth-quarter decision by officials when, on fourth and two, Bryant rose spectacularly to catch a 31-yard pass and move the Cowboys to the one-yard line.
After a challenge flag from McCarthy, the officials ruled the pass incomplete, handing the ball back to the Packers on their 33-yard line and Green Bay never gave the ball back to close out the win.
Now they face the toughest of tasks in Seattle, where they lost 36-16 to open in the regular season in September.
Editing by Gene Cherry