Aaron Rodgers rolled out to his right and, from about midfield, uncorked a Hail Mary pass that soared high into the frigid Green Bay air. The ball looked like it was headed out of the end zone, then dropped practically straight down. Receiver Randall Cobb, behind four defenders in the back of the end zone, made an uncontested catch for a touchdown.
“It felt amazing,” Rodgers said. “It felt like it was meant to be today.”
Thanks in part to that Hail Mary to end the first half, the Green Bay Packers blew out the New York Giants 38-13 in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field. The Packers, all but left for dead at 4-6 following four consecutive losses, have won seven in a row.
Much like the play itself, Rodgers feels like this season is meant to be.
“Yes, I do,” he said with a smile.
The Hail Mary jump-started an unexpected blowout between these two NFC heavyweights. Rodgers was on the other end of a Hail Mary in the 2011 playoffs. The Packers, coming off a 15-1 regular season, gave up a Hail Mary touchdown to the Giants’ Hakeem Nicks at the end of the first half. The Giants led 20-10 at halftime and rolled to a 37-20 win.
“It sucked,” Rodgers recalled of being on the wrong end of the Hail Mary stick.
Rodgers stunned the Lions with a game-winning Hail Mary to tight end Richard Rodgers at Detroit in Week 13 of last season, then stunned the Cardinals with a game-tying Hail Mary to receiver Jeff Janis at the end of regulation in last year’s divisional game at Arizona. Rodgers’ mind, however, went back more than 22 years ago.
“That’s three in the last calendar year or so,” Rodgers said. “It’s fun. Every single time, it’s fun. I think we’re starting to believe any time that ball goes up there that we’ve got a chance. I can throw it pretty good, but it’s got to happen on the other end, as well. I was actually just watching (the replay) before I walked in here, and it looks like — as is the case many times in these situations — there was a little bit of a misjudging of the football by the middle of the pack. As I watch it, it reminds me of the (Doug) Flutie-(Gerard) Phelan catch (for Boston College against Miami on Nov. 23, 1984), where he just kind of sneaks behind the last defender.”
The touchdown provided a remarkable reversal of fortune for the Packers. Their first five possessions ended in punts, including drives that started at its 45- and 44-yard lines. The only noteworthy play in those drives was a pass-interference call that put the Packers in scoring range, only for Rodgers to take a sack that knocked them out of scoring possession.
Finally, the Packers got rolling. Starting at the Giants’ 38, Rodgers hit Davante Adams for 31 yards and a 5-yard touchdown. Suddenly, Green Bay was up 7-6. Less than a minute later, the Packers were on offense again, starting at their 20 with 1:38 remaining. Rodgers’ bomb and Cobb’s catch made it 14-6.
“We were far away so once I saw (the official’s) hands go up, I was like, ‘Wow, this is awesome!’ The excitement takes over and you’re just running around,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said.
“I think it was a huge momentum swing after that Hail Mary, I really do,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga added. “They played us really well in that first half. Their defense did a great job, so you have to take your hats off to them. We didn’t play well enough, didn’t execute. I think after that Hail Mary right before the half, that changed momentum a little bit and we were able to get things rolling.”
The play was a deflater for the Giants, especially on defense. Early in the second quarter, the Packers had minus-8 yards. By night’s end, Rodgers was 25-of-40 for 362 yards, with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 125.2.
“It gave them the momentum,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “Defensively, when you play a half like we did, we felt like we were getting after him and breaking up some passes. We had things pretty much on lock to a certain extent. We came out ready to play in the second half, but (Rodgers) took advantage of some of our coverages on the back end while extending plays.”
The Packers practice the Hail Mary every week during their Saturday practice, though it’s been backup Brett Hundley throwing the pass for most of the season.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable,” Cobb said. “We practice it once a week, (but) it’s more for the defense to give them an opportunity to break it up. But he makes the throw, and guys are misjudging it and one of us is able to come up with it.”
On this one, the ball was designed for receiver Davante Adams.
“My job on that play is to kind of box out and give our jumper (Adams) a little space to jump,” Cobb said. “But I got behind the defense and was able to nudge a guy and make the judge.”
Cobb’s nudge of safety Leon Hall cleared out just enough room for a relatively easy touchdown catch. It was the first of Cobb’s NFL postseason-record-tying three touchdown catches.
“Not too much” of a nudge, he said. “They didn’t throw a flag so I guess it was enough.”
All-Pro safety Landon Collins said “nothing” went wrong defensively.
“We just thought the ball overthrown, so we all jumped,” he said. “But the ball was overthrown and Cobb just stay inbounds and just reach out and caught it. That was about it.”
Except the ball wasn’t overthrown. As was the case at Detroit on the 61-yard Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers at Detroit, when Aaron Rodgers’ bomb was so high that it almost hit the rafters at Ford Field, the key was how high Rodgers threw the ball.
“The high arc is definitely by design,” Rodgers said. “I want to make sure those guys have a chance to get down there and jump. But the key is the offensive line giving me a little bit of time. So, we did a little roll to the right, and obviously back side was firm in the protection. By the time I hit my spot on the field where I wanted to throw it, I’m 100 percent confident that the ball is going to catchable in a catchable spot. It’s just a matter of those guys getting the right situation, and that’s how your draw it up. You have the jumper, you have the guy behind him and a guy in front. Obviously, you don’t catch it every time, but we’ve been fairly successful.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.