One of the most improbable come-from-behind wins in franchise history has revived the once flatlining Green Bay Packers in the race to represent the NFC North as division champions.
Down 23 at halftime, the Packers scored five straight touchdowns over the final 30 minutes to shock the Dallas Cowboys, 37-36.
Green Bay still needs help to win its division, and there's no guarantee that injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers will return for Week 16. But Sunday's comeback has given the Packers a real opportunity to overcome a winless five-game stretch and still finish atop the NFC North.
And there's even growing optimism that Rodgers will in fact play when the Packers take on the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday.
Ed Werder of ESPN reported Sunday morning on NFL Countdown (via Todd McMahon of The De Pere Journal) that Green Bay currently believes Rodgers will be ready to return from his fractured collarbone and play against the Steelers.
Since suffering the injury on Nov. 4, Rodgers has missed six games and all but one series of another. Green Bay started 0-4-1 without him before winning each of the last two games.
By Monday night, the 7-6-1 Packers could be in a position to control their own destiny over the final two games.
If the Baltimore Ravens beat the Detroit Lions to cap off Week 15, Green Bay can then win its last two games—which includes the season finale in Chicago—and guarantee itself a third straight NFC North title.
For now, the Lions still hold the cards in the division. Three wins from Detroit to close out the season crowns the Lions as champions. The Chicago Bears, after beating the Cleveland Browns Sunday, are also very much alive at 8-6.
The Packers will feel most fortunate to even remain in the division race.
After overcoming an 11-point deficit in Week 14 to beat the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field, the Packers overcame impossible odds to take down the Cowboys Sunday.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Dallas had a 99.7-percent win probability at halftime, when the Cowboys led the Packers by a score of 26-3. Green Bay had allowed over 300 yards of offense at the break and was struggling to gain traction against the NFL's worst defense.
Even throughout the furious and frantic comeback, Dallas was a near-lock to win.
When the Cowboys scored a touchdown to go up, 36-24, with under eight minutes left, their win probability spiked back to 99.6 percent. And after Dez Bryant picked up a 3rd-and-long at the 3:02 mark, the win probability stood at 98.1.
|End of 1st Quarter||13-3||89.2%|
|End of 2nd Quarter||26-3||99.7%|
|Bryant TD, 8:04 4th Quarter||36-24||99.6%|
|Bryant First Down, 3:02 4th Quarter||36-31||98.1%|
Yet the resilient Packers found a way to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Matt Flynn threw four second-half touchdowns after a miserable opening half, Sam Shields picked off Tony Romo to set up the winning score, and Tramon Williams sealed the victory by hauling in an errant Romo attempt with under 90 seconds left.
Any comeback win was going to take a perfect sequence of events, and that's essentially what unfolded Sunday.
Andrew Quarless' touchdown capped off another 80-yard drive, and James Starks made good on a short field when he took a short dump-off from Flynn into the end zone for another score. Green Bay trailed, 29-24, at that point.
After Bryant's late touchdown, the Packers scored the game's final 13 points and got two huge stops from the defense.
Shields picked off Romo on a packaged play with just 2:46 left. The call gave Romo the option to hand off or throw, and his misguided attempt to thread the needle was snatched away by Shields. On the next possession, Williams made an acrobatic pick with the Cowboys driving, down only one point.
James Jones (three-yard touchdown catch) and Lacy (one-yard touchdown run) provided the final points of the historic comeback.
The 23-point deficit in a game the Packers won tied Green Bay's franchise record. And it was the first time ever that the Packers had come back from a 23-point halftime margin.
"It was offense and defense both stepping up in the second half," Flynn said, via Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Really feeding off each other.”
Are the Packers back to being the front-runners in the NFC North?
Suddenly, the Packers look like a sleeping giant in the NFC North.
The return of Rodgers by next week could set up the Packers to win each of their last two games and sneak back into the playoffs.
Green Bay will welcome Pittsburgh to Lambeau Field, where Rodgers hasn't lost a game he's started and finished since Week 1 of the 2012 season. The Packers would likely be considered slight favorites if Rodgers were declared fit to play.
Winning in Chicago is no guarantee, either, but the Bears haven't beaten a Rodgers-led team since September 2010. It's certainly possible the Packers would be favored in that game, too.
Meanwhile, the Lions take on the defending Super Bowl champions in a nationally televised game Monday night and finish with a tricky trip to Minnesota in Week 17. The Bears must travel to Philadelphia next Sunday before welcoming the Packers to Soldier Field to finish the season.
The schedule sets up for a wild finish, and many will point to the Packers as now being the favorites to survive the mini gauntlet. Few would have deemed that possible at halftime in Dallas Sunday.